Saturday, 3 December 2011

Do you like to Osu?

Do you 'Osu!' in your dojo? Generally speaking, we do not 'Osu!' in ours except for one of our experienced black belts who regularly osus! I find it quite alarming (and intriguing) to hear him shout 'Osu!' up to 10 or 15 times a session. He osus when he bows announces a kata, starts a technique or whenever the instructor asks or tells him something. I presume his use of this word is related to his karate 'upbringing' over 30 years ago.

So what is this 'Osu!' thing all about? I decided to do some research:

First, let’s just say the correct pronunciation is 'oh-sss' rather than 'oo-sss', which is a common mispronunciation in the West.

Osu is a Japanese greeting word (aisatsu). It is a contraction of other greeting words such as Ohayossu or ohayoosu, Ohayo or even just Oh. The more contracted the word the less formal the greeting. It's a bit like going from 'Good Morning', to 'Hello' to 'Hi' depending on the context and company you are in.

In general parlance in Japan 'Osu' is a very 'rough' male greeting between friends in an athletic setting. It is a very male word - an expression of masculinity, something men may greet each other with in a football or baseball club. It is generally only used by children and 'macho' or rough men! In Japan, a woman would never use such an impolite word and a man would be considered rude to use it to greet a woman.

So why do we use it in martial arts?

It is a word mainly used in karate clubs, though some judo and taekwondo clubs have been known to use it too (possibly because the instructor has a karate background). It is not an Okinawan word so Okinawan styles of karate generally don't use it. The origin of the word is not entirely clear but it is thought that the use of “Osu!” first appeared in the Officers Academy of the Imperial Japanese Navy, in the early 20th century and later became common with karate students. This helped establish the rough masculine nature of the word.

What is its purpose in the dojo?

In some dojo's 'osuing' is a standard part of the dojo etiquette and all students are expected to use it, whereas in other dojo's it is actively discouraged because it is not considered very polite, preferring more polite expressions such as “Onegaishimasu.”!

However, if you consider another translation of the word, which is also a contraction of the two kanji symbols used to write the term “Oshi Shinobu” it means "to persevere while pushing oneself to the absolute limit.” The strength of character that develops from hard training is known as “osu no seishin” (the spirit of “Osu!”). It implies a willingness to push oneself to the limits of endurance, to persevere under any kind of pressure. This is the context in which it is being used in the dojo.

The word 'Osu!' has many purposes in the dojo. It can be used to greet fellow students instead of saying hello (at least among the men); to respond to a question or instruction instead of saying yes; if your instructor thinks you are weak or injured you can reply 'osu' to reaffirm that despite your weakness/injury you are willing to still try your best; you can say it to remind yourself that despite the pain you need to carry on i.e. show your 'warrior spirit' or you can use it to acknowledge your opponents skill at a technique or in a tournament. It seems like a very flexible and versatile word!

And finally! Some general 'Osu!' etiquette:

  • "Osu!" is primarily a greeting.
  • You use it toward other people, not toward an empty room when you bow onto the mat or before you perform a kata.
  • You cannot really use it for "goodbye."
  • It is never a question and does not mean "I understand."
So do you 'Osu!' in your dojo?

Click here if you want to read a comprehensive article on the use of 'Osu'.

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at
Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Monday, 31 October 2011

Black Belt Testing – entrance or exit exam?

Revolving doors
People are often tempted to compare the abilities of a black belt student from one martial arts system to those of black belt students within other systems. In addition, people often have fixed expectations of what a black belt student should be able to do, this often results in much discussion or argument over the quality of a black belt test.

For some, the new black belt student should be entirely proficient in all aspects of their chosen art or be able to prove themselves in a fight. For others the new black belt student is considered to have just learnt the basics of their art and now their real training is about to begin. This begs the question – is the black belt test an entrance or exit exam?

In case you are not familiar with the concept of entrance and exit exams let me offer you some examples: A medical degree is an entrance exam; at the end of the course the student holds a degree qualification which then gains them entrance into a programme of higher medical training. A medical degree alone does not allow a person to become a fully qualified, fully independent doctor. Likewise a Law degree provides a standalone qualification but it does not allow the holder to practice as a lawyer; it is merely an entrance qualification to higher levels of training.

On the other hand, some training programmes lead to qualifications that allow the holder to go out a work as a fully functioning practitioner in that line of work. For example, qualifications in nursing, plumbing or electrics; these are ‘exit’ qualifications and the student has to pass ‘exit’ exams that prove they are fully competent in their subject and safe to practice. That isn’t to say that there aren’t further more specialist courses that the practitioner can take, there generally are. A junior doctor who has completed a programme of higher specialist training will take exit exams that allow him/her to practice as an independent practitioner.

So, this brings me back to the question, is the black belt test an entrance or exit exam? Does it merely allow you to enter into a higher level of training in your art or does it mean that you are a fully functioning practitioner who has mastered all the techniques your art has to offer?

It depends on the art and the system that you train in doesn’t it? In most systems of karate and other traditional arts I would argue that the black belt test is an entrance exam – it shows that you have learnt the basics and you are now ready to enter into a programme of more advanced training.
However, I think that in some reality based systems the black belt test is treated more as an exit exam and that there is an expectation that black belt students can defend themselves in a very confident and expert way and will have become proficient ‘fighters’.

It may be that the bar is set higher for black belt testing in some systems than in others. I don’t think that this matters too much as long as you are not making direct comparisons. In the same way that you can’t compare degree qualifications from one university with those from another, neither can you compare black belt qualifications of one martial arts system with those from a different system either.

So, if your system of training treats the black belt test as an entrance exam at what point of training do you exit? 3rd dan? 5th dan? If you are a traditionalist then you probably believe that there is no exit exam, that training and the pursuit of perfection in your art is a life-long programme with no end-point.
Then again you may, for practical reasons, assume that there is an exit point at say 3rd dan. At third dan you may feel that the practitioner is sufficiently proficient in the full range of their art to be able to teach it as a fully qualified instructor. If you treat the black belt test as an exit exam then you may feel that the practitioner is suitably qualified to teach at 1st dan or 2nd dan.

The point though is that you understand what the black belt test in your system really represents in terms of achievement and proficiency in your art. It doesn’t really matter whether it represents a basic qualification or an advanced one as long as you understand where it fits into the entire continuum of your training system and you don’t make too many comparisons between systems without understanding where their black belt qualification fits into their system.

So, is your black belt test an entrance or an exit exam? Where would you consider the exit point to be in your system?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at
Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Wide Asleep!

Wide asleep – this was a phrase I came across recently when I attended a knife awareness seminar. It was referring to that situation that many people are in day to day when they are awake and walking around, getting on with their business but are completely oblivious to their surroundings.

You know – people walking around with iPods plugged into their ears, chatting idly on their mobile phones or just lost deep in their own thoughts taking absolutely no notice of their surroundings; leaving themselves a sitting duck for any would be opportunist attacker.

This state of being wide asleep is part of Cooper’s Colour Codes, a simple tool that can aid us in understanding various stages of awareness and alertness and provide a strategy for dealing with any threats we may come across during our day. There are four levels of codes from white through to yellow, orange and red. There is a lot written about the use of this colour code system in self-defence which you can read about here or here, so I’m not going to describe it in any detail.

The other thing that struck me on this knife awareness course was that the techniques we learnt to escape from or disarm a knife attacker were very much based on some of the karate and kobudo techniques that I have learnt in my traditional martial arts classes; they had a familiarity to them.

People often criticise traditional karate for not being realistic or being too stylised or even worse – not teaching any self-defence at all! Having trained in karate for a few years now I don’t believe that the art is intrinsically unrealistic in approach but how useful it is does depend on how it is being taught.

There can be a gap between the way defensive moves are learnt in karate training and the self-defence moves in reality based training but I believe that this gap shouldn’t exist – that it can be bridged with thoughtful and intelligent training. I don’t like it when people say, “this is the art of karate but in real self-defence we do it this way,” as if they are completely different things. To me they are flip sides of the same coin – not different coins.

It seems to me that both students and sometimes instructors can be operating at different levels of the Cooper Colour Code awareness system in the way they train/teach:

Code White: Awareness switched off (wide asleep). The student and possibly the instructor are completely oblivious as to whether what they are learning/teaching has any relevance to realistic self-defence. They are completely unaware as to how the components of their training (kata, kihon, kumite) actually fit together in a cohesive structure.

Code Yellow: Awareness is switched on. The student/instructor is aware that they need to make connections between the various elements of their training and look at its application to real life self-defence scenarios. However, despite this awareness they remain in a fairly relaxed state about it, unsure how to take the training to this new level.

Code Orange: In a state of ‘specific alert’, aware of the threat. The student/instructor knows how to pull the traditional elements of the system together and apply them to specific situations. He/she is knowledgeable about how violence operates in common attack scenarios including an understanding of escalation/de-escalation, triggers etc. They are aware of the common ways in which men and women are attacked and are able to teach self-defence techniques that relate directly to the techniques taught through kata, ippon kumite etc –i.e they are able to bridge the gap between traditional training and realistic self-defence. They can teach students how to make decisions on what action to take in specific scenarios.

Code Red:  Ready to fight and carry out a plan of action. Students/instructor are prepared to be pressure tested in more realistic situations. The instructor is clearly able to articulate to and teach the student how hours spent in traditional kihon and kata training can lead to a level of mental and physical preparedness that coupled with an full understanding of the nature of violence and common attack situations and realistic defence training enables the student to develop full competence in all areas of self-defence.

I’d like to reach the state of code red in my training; I don’t think I’m there yet, I think I’m somewhere between yellow and orange – but I’m working on it. My awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of my training is very apparent to me and I’m working on how to fill the gaps.

If this knife awareness course taught me something it’s this: reality based self-defence is very much based on and dependent upon traditional martial arts. All of us on the course (all karate-ka) picked up the techniques quickly because we already knew how to move our bodies effectively to evade, block, unbalance and apply locks.  The reality vs traditional gap is not so big after all – we just need to be sure that when we train we are not wide asleep

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at
Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Keep your eyes wide open…

A lot of martial artists, particularly instructors get very frustrated when they see a lot of crap being taught or talked about to students. They get frustrated when other instructors teach techniques that clearly don’t work or don’t push students hard enough to achieve a high standard because they are afraid the student’s will leave (taking their 
money with them).

In my view there are three types of bad instructors:
  1.    Instructors who lack knowledge and skill and therefore teach to a low standard
  2.   Instructors who are highly skilled but misinform you about what you are learning to do e.g. they tell you that you are learning self-defence but you are in fact learning sport.
  3.    Instructors who are too indifferent or lazy to correct student’s mistakes and then allow them to pass gradings at a low standard.

However, no art, no club and no instructor is perfect so if you want to become a good martial artist yourself then you:
  • have to train with your eyes wide open,
  • be objective in your assessment of the system you train in and 
  • don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Let me explain a little more about what I mean:

Train with your eyes wide open
Don’t take everything you are taught at face value. For example, if you are training in a traditional art such as karate and you are told that you will be learning self-defence then think about how much time you are spending doing application work. Karate is composed of kihon, kata and kumite. These are initially taught as separate elements but at some point they need to all come together and that is during the application of principles to self-defence. If your club only ever treats these three cornerstones of karate as separate elements and does no application work then you are not learning self-defence.

Remember that ‘good technique’ and ‘good techniques’ are not necessarily the same thing. You may develop the technically perfect spinning hook kick but is a spinning hook kick a good technique to have in your self-defence armoury? Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t; the point is you may meet people who are technically perfect in the performance of all their techniques but the techniques themselves may be useless. 

At some point, as a student, you will have to make your own decisions about whether the things you are being taught are useful and effective. Some of what you will be taught will be excellent, some will be okay and some will be useless – take some responsibility for deciding yourself (this gets easier as you get more experienced) and  remember to train with your eyes wide open.

Be objective in your assessment of the system that you train in
No system is perfect or complete - whatever your instructor says.  A system in its infancy may have an incoherent structure and either a deficient or excessive number of techniques until it has evolved to a more coherent and optimal state. A mature system will have developed bias as its founders hone it to their own strengths and beliefs about what makes a good system. However, whatever evolutionary stage your system is in it should be dynamic, slowly changing, evolving and improving. 

If your instructor boasts how he is still teaching the system the same as it was 300 years ago in Okinawa or Japan you might want to be a bit worried if you are expecting to learn realistic street defence.  The world 300 years ago was very different to the world today, particularly in relation to the law. What was acceptable practice back then may leave you in prison today.  Though ancient fighting arts may have little contextual currency today they may still have cultural and historical value and so be worth practising in order to conserve them for future generations. If you’re interested in historical preservation then studying these arts may be for you.

Though a living martial art needs to avoid stagnation, you need to be sure that in a very new, contemporary system that the founder hasn’t completely thrown out the baby with the bath water and just made it all up. A good contemporary reality based system is generally still based on many traditional principles and its instructors generally have a lot of experience of traditional martial arts. Those that don’t often end up re-inventing the wheel but not managing to get it quite round.

So be objective in your assessment of the system that you train in. You have to get to know it and you have to give it a chance. No system will provide you with 100 percent of what you need or want, so try and assess its strengths and weaknesses. If it’s giving you 80 percent of what you need then it’s probably not doing badly.

There is no point in flitting around from one system to another either, trying to find perfection – you’ll never get anywhere. Find a system that gives you much of what you want and then look at how you will fill in the gaps. This brings me to my third point…

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
In my opinion cross-training between different arts is a good thing. Not everybody agrees with that. Some people think that cross-training confuses students because different arts often have a different way of moving and follow a different fighting strategy. This can be true but if you cross-train intelligently the two arts can work synergistically together.

So how do you cross-train intelligently? Well first decide which your main art is and stay true to the strategy of that art. Then choose a supplementary art that complements rather than contrasts with that main art. I do karate as a main art and kobudo as a supplementary art.  Some people would say that kobudo is a part of karate and in some systems it is. But then jujitsu could be considered a part of karate because the kata contain throwing techniques. All arts overlap to some extent and share some techniques or principles so you could argue that there is no such thing as cross training – you are just broadening you horizons.

To cross-train intelligently you also need to think what it is about the supplementary art that you want to learn – is it a more flowing way of movement, to learn some new techniques which can be integrated into your main art, or just gaining a new perspective about self-defence? Be clear on what you are trying to get out of cross-training and then it may work very well for you.

When you first start training in a martial art you will slavishly follow your instructors teachings, you have to and should do because you don’t know any better. However as you progress up into the dan grades you may start to (and should) become more objective in assessing and identifying your systems strengths and weaknesses and your instructors’ biases and beliefs. It is up to you as a student to decide whether this system is really working for you and whether you can plug the gaps with intelligent cross-training.

Learning a martial art is an active process not a passive one. It requires the student to think objectively about what they are learning, keeping their eyes wide open and working out for themselves how to overcome any deficiencies in their training.

So train intelligently with your eyes wide open – it’s your responsibility…

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at
Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Sunday, 14 August 2011

New Beginnings....

I hope you like the new blog platforms that we have. Much more ‘blog like’ don’t you think? You may have already surmised but I am the new Blog Editor as well as a blogger for Martial News. This means that I am managing and editing all the blogs that we host so if you want to give any feedback on our new look then please send it to me on the e-mail at the bottom of this post.

A few things to point out about our new blogs: you can now leave comments at the bottom of each post.  We would really welcome your feedback on what we have to say but please observe our comments policy which is written above the dialogue box on the comment’s page. You can also link easily from one blog to another by using the blog list in the left hand column – you will notice that all of our blogs are listed on all of the other blogs, so it is easy to navigate between them. Each blog also has an internal search engine so that you can search the blog to see if a particular topic has been written about. The big red HOME button will link you back to the main Martial News home page so it’s always easy to get back to where you started. Finally, if you are a regular reader of our blogs why not sign up as a follower?

The new blog platforms are not the only new beginning; you’ve probably noticed that my blog title has also changed from ‘Student Eye’ to ‘Black Belt Adventure’. Why? Well, it’s probably obvious but I’ve now attained my black belt!

Holding the rank of 1st Dan also feels like a new beginning to me. Well everybody likes to tell me that black belt is where it all really begins. I suppose it shouldn’t feel any different to be a new black belt than it did to be a 1st kyu, after all I don’t actually know any more than I did just before the grading but somehow it does feel different. I feel as if I’ve just spent four years walking along a narrow corridor and now I’ve just passed through a door and entered into a really big room. A room without walls.

The long walk through the corridor kept me focused on learning the skills and techniques of the karate system that I belong to. I occasionally glanced through windows to see what was going on outside my own dojo but I knew I had to stay true to my style until I had grasped the basics. Now that I have entered the large room….well, so much more is opening up to me.  Freed from the shackles of regular gradings I feel liberated. There are just so many different things to learn out there. Though I intend to continue training within my existing system, improving and extending my skills, I feel that I now have time to look outside my dojo door into the big room and see what else is going on out there!

I’ve always enjoyed going to martial arts seminars and festivals, learning new things with new people but you get so much more out of these things once you’ve attained a basic level of skill within one system.  You can more easily see the similarities and differences between different arts and relate things back to what you already know. You are better at deciding what works for you and what doesn’t, what compliments your existing skills and what detracts from them.  Existing skills start to internalise, freeing up your brain to learn new skills more quickly – and remember them!

At the moment I feel like a kiddy in a sweet shop, not sure what to sample next. I’m looking forward to accessing training opportunities outside my system as well inside it and seeing how I can assimilate new knowledge and skills into the mix. The journey now is about working out which way I want to go next and planning how to get there. I am working hard towards my assistant instructor certificate as I would like to do some teaching within my club but I’m also interested in learning more about women’s’ self-defence training. It feels like I’m embarking on a big adventure – a Black Belt Adventure….. 

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Shodan - my black belt story...

Do you remember your first black belt grading? Perhaps it was a long time ago for you or perhaps it was quite recent. Either way this post may bring back some memories because I have just graded for shodan in karate and I’m now the proud lady owner of a black belt!

Here’s my black belt grading story……

We woke up at 6.00am on Sunday 12th June 2011 to a gloriously sunny day and looked forward to a pleasant drive across the Pennines to the SKK Judo centre in Newton-le-Willows where the grading was to take place. By the time we got there an hour and a half later it was pouring with rain and stayed that way the rest of the day!

I have been preparing for this grading for, well four years in total, but a good six months of pretty intense training. I have worked on my fitness, strength, flexibility, endurance as well as my black belt syllabus. I have had to deal with injuries and endure a ‘deep tissue’ sports massage on my quads -ouch! Definitely not for the faint hearted. I have had set backs, particularly at the pre-dan grading course, where I seriously doubted my ability to pass. However, after much support and encouragement from instructors and some serious introspection and positive self-talk I got myself back on track.

My negative pre-dan grading experience had taught me that I had made the mistake of putting the ‘black belt’ grading on a grand high pedestal where it didn’t really belong. Once I’d knocked it off its pedestal and realised this was just another grading a lot of the stress melted away.  Having got my sense of perspective back I cut back on some of the additional training I had been doing. I think I was overtraining a bit and getting tired and a little exhausted, this is probably why I was becoming injury prone.

We were expected to be on the mats by 10.00am to receive instructions on how the day would proceed and to warm up and have some practice time. The grading actually started at 10.30. Nineteen of us were grading, 17 for shodan and 2 for nidan, from various clubs within the SSK. This is a much larger cohort than usual so I was a bit worried how they were going to manage us all logistically – I had a feeling it was going to be a long, tiring day.

It turned out that the day was organised with military precision. We had 15 sections to get through, some of which could be done in groups but others needed to be graded individually. The first four sections were all kihon combinations – 6 punching, 6 kicking, 1 stance combination and 1 combination set on the day. These sections are designed to test fitness and endurance as well as correct technique so each combination is repeated several times on both the left and right side. We did this in rows of 6 or 7 people and it took about 1¼ hours to complete these sections. I made one major blunder during the stance combination – I stepped left into shiko dachi instead of right. Obviously it stuck out like a sore thumb in the lineout!

Next came the kata/bunkai sections. We each had to perform 3 kata and demonstrate bunkai from each.  These sections were tested individually, which meant 57 individual kata performances each with 3 bunkai demonstrations – that sounded like it was going to take a long, long time! However, we were split into two groups and one group (my group) were sent out to take an hour lunch break whilst the other group graded. I was glad to be in the group taking the break first as I needed to re-fuel and re-hydrate myself after the kihon sections.

The atmosphere in the waiting area was very upbeat. People seemed fairly relaxed and confident about what they were doing and there was a lot of camaraderie between people. It was almost starting to be enjoyable!
For me the kata demonstrations were the most nerve wracking part of the grading. Good kata performance is very exacting – the slightest mistakes will be noticed and marked down.  Technique, timing and intent are all important to the kata performance. This is followed immediately with a bunkai demonstration.  This is the section where you need to show that there is substance behind the form. The applications chosen should be to a single attack, which must be delivered realistically, and the defence should shut down the attack completely.

With the kihon and kata sections over, we were about half way through the grading. Next up was pad work, this is always guaranteed to get you hot, sweaty and out of breath again! After a quick drink break it was time for ippon kumite (one step sparring) and goshin waza (self-defence techniques). These were graded individually with partners. These sections generally went well for me; they usually are my strongest sections. However, I did make a mistake and ended up repeating the same ippon technique twice to different attacks; of course the sharp eyed judges noticed!

We were then onto demonstrating a floor drill (ground fighting) and a breakfalling drill. Finally we got to the last two sections – sparring. First up was jiyu kumite (free sparring) where we just do light continuous sparring with a partner to demonstrate a range of punches and kicks. Then we had a round of shiai kumite (competition sparring).  I was drawn against a 15 year old girl who was testing for 2nd dan. Despite her tender years she was far more experienced in sparring than me and her youth gave her a speed and agility that I no longer possess. However I wasn’t going to make it easy for her. 

According to onlookers I held her off pretty well and didn’t give her many openings. I managed to score a half point with a reverse punch but then made the fatal mistake of delivering a round house kick to her head. She deftly caught my foot, spun me around and punched me in the back to score a full ippon. She won the round but it didn’t matter, the grading was over.

It was now 5.30pm, a full seven hours of grading. After the judges deliberations we were lined back up to receive our scores. Seventeen of us passed, sadly two did not.

I was worried that it would feel like an anti-climax, that I’d be too exhausted to enjoy my success. But it wasn’t – I found it an amazing feeling to be finally wearing my black belt. It represents years of continuous dedication and training. I’m still on a high days later but no doubt my feet will soon land on the ground and the next leg of my martial arts journey will begin…..

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

What kind of martial artist are you?

When you step into a dojo for the very first time you are often unaware that you have just opened the door to a very big world. You may not realise initially that ‘martial arts’ are a very broad ranging group of activities. The term ‘martial arts’ is often banded around to include activities that aren’t strictly ‘martial’ in origin e.g. karate (karate is civilian based not military based) or aren’t ‘art’ because they are either ‘sport’ (e.g. MMA, boxing or wrestling) or they are pure ‘self-defence’ systems (e.g. reality based systems).

Some systems may be a composite of all three elements – art, sport and self defence with greater emphasis on one or other of those elements whereas others may concentrate either entirely on just one of those elements possibly playing ‘lip service’ to another.

Does it matter? Shouldn’t all martial arts be about self-defence? Well, it matters a lot if your aim is to be able to defend yourself in a violent encounter in the street and you must realise that not all martial arts will provide you with the skills you need to do this. If you want this you will need to choose a reality based self-defence (RBSD) system or a traditional art that is working very much at the ‘jutsu’ end of the scale.

 However, effective self defence may not be your primary aim or motivation. You may prefer the world of sport and competition, a place where extreme physical fitness combined with martial skills is the order of the day. You can choose from traditional systems such as judo, sport karate or sport taekwondo which may encompass ‘art’ as well as sport or you can choose a more contemporary or purist martial sport such as MMA or boxing.

Maybe you’re not interested in the sports side of martial arts. Perhaps, like me, you are a little too old for competitive sport!  If you prefer to study the aesthetics, body mechanics, power generation, focus, self-awareness and various other esoteric qualities associated with martial artists then you may prefer a more traditional martial art such as karate-do, kung-fu or aikido. To what extent these more ‘artistic’ qualities of martial arts are combined with practical application will vary enormously from system to system and from club to club.

It is quite obvious that ‘martial artists’ come in as many guises as people do themselves. Is one type of martial artist better than another?

The RBSD martial artist will no doubt have the edge on understanding and dealing with the brutality of street violence but will win no competitions and have little empathy for body aesthetics or any of the esoteric qualities of traditional martial arts. 

The sports martial artist may be at peak physical fitness, experienced the glory of winning and have a shelf full of trophies but he/she may or may not handle themselves well in a street fight or have any understanding of the true meaning of a kata they have just demonstrated so beautifully in competition.

The traditional martial artist may have mastered control of their mind and body, learned how to harness their own power, found greater success and fulfilment in their lives through the application of budo principles but own no trophies and have varying abilities to defend themselves in a real life confrontation.

So there we have it: you can train to be master of the ‘street’, master of the sports arena or master of yourself. None is better than the other they are just different, but they can all use the title ‘martial artist’.

How do you choose what kind of martial artist you want to be? Well you must first analyse your NEEDS and your WANTS. Do you work in an area that regular deals with confrontation with members of the public or live in an area where street violence is a fact of life? Then you probably need a RBSD system to meet these needs. If you fantasise about being the next world champion in a martial based sport then a good judo, MMA, boxing or sports karate or taekwondo club may provide what you are looking for. But if your bag is more about a journey of self-discovery and self-perfection through the study of budo then a traditional martial art may be the best choice.

What is important is that you understand what it is that you want or need and what it is that a particular type of martial art is really offering. You need to match up your expectations with the objectives of the martial art chosen. Some clubs, particularly traditional MA clubs, may offer a combination of art, sport and self defence. This may have many advantages but remember you will learn to be a ‘Jack of all trades’ and ‘Master of none’ if you are not careful.

What you want from your martial art may vary as you go through your life so it is okay to change as you go along. For example, when you are young martial sport may be your main requirement. Once you are too old to be competitive you may decide to hone your self-defence skills more and opt to train in a reality based system. As you get even older you may get fed up with the focus on violence and the more brutal nature of training and wish to explore the more traditional arts that may lead to improvements in health and well being. The kind of martial artist you become may therefore change as you go through your life.

Once you have decided what kind of martial artist you want to be you need to find the right martial art, club and instructor. There is no such thing as a bad martial art only bad clubs, bad instructors and bad students! To find the right club you need to assess it against the right criteria. It is pointless judging a RBSD club through the lens of a traditionalist – it will be found wanting however good it is at providing self-defence training. Likewise, don’t judge a traditional martial art through the lens of a RBSD system, again it will be found wanting. If the club you are assessing is offering the kind of martial art that you need or want, you like the instructor, the environment seems appropriate for the art, other students seem to making good progress and it doesn’t seem like a financial rip off then it is probably a suitable club for what you want.

A final word of warning! Some martial arts instructors can be like ‘false prophets’ – they may offer things that they cannot deliver on. This may be unintentional because they believe in what they are saying (they’ve not looked outside their dojo door for a long time) or they may be true charlatans just after your money. Let the buyer beware – do your research!
So, have you worked out yet what kind of martial artist you are? Is it the type you expect or want to be?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

The benefits of training solo...

Though martial arts is essentially about learning self-defence, a process which requires at least two people (attacker and defender), it is also an art that can be practiced solo. I think that all martial arts have at least some elements that can be practiced solo. I love doing solo training at home and karate lends itself better than many martial arts to this end.

So what things can you do on your own that will enhance your overall performance of your marital art?

Here's my top ten list of solo training activities:

1.General fitness training. Which ever martial art you do, you don't need a partner to work on your general fitness and all martial arts require a relatively high degree of general fitness and strength to be done well. Fitness training should encompass endurance, strength and flexibility exercises.
2. Specific fitness training.  Depending on the art that you do and your objectives within that art you may need to do specific fitness training. If you do competition sparring then a higher than average level of cardio fitness may be needed. You may need to strengthen specific muscles to improve kicking height or do flexibility exercises that specifically open up the hips. Or you may need exercises that work on fast twitch fibres to increase punching speed. All martial artists will have specific fitness needs over and above their general fitness needs. The trick is to identify what those needs are for your art and work on them.

3. Kata/Forms training. Not all martial arts include kata but many do and the advantage of training this in your own time is that you can do it at your own pace; choose the kata you want to work on and repeat sections you have particular difficulty with. There are all sorts of ways of practicing kata that you may not do in normal classes e.g. you can do kata as a flow drill with quick but soft flowing movements; you can practice with your eyes closed; facing in different directions; just do the leg work (that's really hard if you haven't tried it) or train it with full power and correct timing. If you are at home or in the gym you are in full control of how you do it.

4. Kihon training. All arts will have a set of fundamental principles or techniques designed to get you moving your body correctly and working on basic body mechanics and alignment. In karate much of this kihon training can be done solo though in other arts I accept that a partner may be required. I spend a lot of my solo training time practising kihon, often in front of a mirror so that I can see if my limbs and trunk are aligned correctly for the various techniques. Again, the advantage of solo training is that you are in control of which techniques you want to work on and how you want to do it.

5. Sparring combinations. Sparring combinations can be worked either against the air or against a heavy bag. Working it solo is a great chance to put together new combinations or practice old favourites. Obviously this is not a substitute for sparring with a partner but it is a useful adjunct that helps lay down a few memory maps for specific combinations.

6. Self defence with an imaginary partner. Yes, you can do some partner work without your partner being there! If you are trying to commit certain self-defence combinations to memory, such as ippon kumite or goshin waza techniques, then you can walk through these with an imaginary partner. You won't know how well you can get them to work until you try them on a real partner but at least you'll remember what you're supposed to be doing.

7. Mental martial arts. Solo training doesn't all have to be physical. You can spend valuable time just thinking through kata or combination techniques to help fix them in the mind. 

8. Reading. Reading about martial arts, whether it be about history, culture, technique or philosophy, should also be thought of as a form of solo training because it all enhances your general understanding of martial arts. Reading makes you think and broadens your martial arts horizons. By understanding your art (and others) in a cultural and historical context you become better able to interpret kata and look at how techniques can be transferred to a more contemporary context. 

9. Writing. Writing is not everyone's cup of tea I know but it can be very useful. Writing can just consist of making your own private notes about techniques or keeping a training log. Alternatively writing can include researching and producing articles for a blog, if you are so inclined. For me, writing is very much a part of my solo training and my blogs are the place where I do most of my thinking about martial arts as well as communicating with other like minded people.

10. Meditation. Some will say that learning to meditate is an essential skill for every martial artist. You may or may not agree with this but having some quiet time alone to clear the mind and relax the body or to practice correct breathing can be as valuable to the martial artists training as any physical training. Martial arts are a mind-body thing so training the mind should have some priority in your training schedule.

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Reality based systems - whose reality are we talking about?

As you know, I train in traditional martial arts, karate and kobudo. Traditional martial arts are often lampooned for not be ‘realistic’ in their approach to self-defence but I’d also question how realistic ‘reality based’ systems really are.

Now, I don’t doubt for one minute that many of these systems are highly effective, taught by skilled and experienced instructors and ‘do what they say on the tin’, which seems to be a common phrase in reality martial arts. However, I do have one doubt about them – I’m very dubious about their interpretation of ‘reality’. 

Bearing in mind that these systems are targeted at ‘ordinary citizens’; apparently the perils they tell us we all face on a daily basis in our ‘reality’ are: bombings, armed robberies, drive-by shootings, carjacking, gang violence, sniper attacks, multiple attackers, knife attacks, gang rapes….. the list goes on. Okay, these things happen in a modern society but they are not everyday scenarios and they do not accurately represent reality for the vast majority of ‘ordinary citizens’. 

As you go about your daily life you are much more likely to encounter a bit of road rage, an argumentative or threatening customer/client, an opportunistic bag snatcher, a belligerent drunk, an intimidating beggar, a potential distraction burglar or face a daily battle with domestic violence. These types of events are much more a part of reality for people than the former list, and even then they are not encountered every day. 

These ‘reality based’ systems are often designed and run by ex-military people, people who seem to think they have a better handle on reality than the ‘ordinary citizens’ they are instructing. But modern society is not a theatre of war. Modern society may have its criminal element and is occasionally (though rarely) subject to an act of terrorism, most people will never be involved in this or even witness it in their entire lives.

According to Wikepedia, the definition of 
reality is: “The state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be.” This is actual reality but there is also ‘consensus reality’. Consensus reality is “when two or more individuals agree upon the interpretation and experience of a particular event. This being common to a few individuals or a larger group, then becomes the "truth" as seen and agreed upon by a certain set of people. Thus one particular group may have a certain set of agreed-upon truths, while another group might have a different set. This allows different communities and societies to have very different notions of reality and truth about the external world.”

I would advocate that ex-military people who have seen active service will have a very different notion of reality and truth about the external world than ordinary civilians whose daily self-protection needs are very different. Thus ‘Reality based systems’, or at least the more militaristic ones are only really of any value to people working in situations with a similar consensus reality i.e the military, law enforcement and the security services. They are of very limited practical value to us ordinary citizens. One 
website I looked at promoting reality based self-defence boasted that it was, “Born in Battle, Christened in Combat” and promised that: “The Self Defense Training System is everything there is to know about man-on-man violence. Once you complete your training you will be an extremely dangerous person, feared and respected by all.” Is this really what ordinary people need? Do I really need to learn ‘counter-terrorism’ techniques or how to avoid a sniper? 

I just think that some of these reality systems create a ‘fantasy reality’ that they then design a program to defend against and teach it to a high standard. The whole thing is very internally consistent but it doesn’t represent the actual reality that most people live in. Even reality based systems aimed at women focus on dealing with violent confrontations such as stranger rape or knife attacks. Though these may represent 'common crimes' at a society level, on an individual level a woman’s life time risk of being raped or attacked by a knifeman is very low, particularly if she learns about avoidance and awareness. However, her chances of feeling threatened by an irate customer/colleague/boss/neighbour/partner are much more common - how many reality systems deal with this? 

No doubt there are many self-defence courses and systems out there that do teach useful, everyday self-protection techniques based on avoidance, common sense and conflict resolution. They probably don’t call themselves ‘reality based’ but actually represent a much more common civilian reality than so called ‘reality systems’ do. 

I just wish these macho ‘reality’ based systems would re-brand themselves as ‘situation based’, or ‘contextually based’ self-defence systems and stop marketing themselves to ordinary civilians as they simply do not address their true needs but instead create a fear of violent confrontation when none is warranted. This type of training may be suitable for people working in law-enforcement, security or the military but in my opinion they are not much use to anyone else. 

Okay, I’m off my soap box now and awaiting the fall out…….

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt