The Deception of Speed: How to Be Faster When You Are Not

Eureka!  Like a mad scientist, I have unlocked the secret to being faster.  By the end of this article I will have hoped to show you that even as you get older and your physical abilities start to diminish you can still get faster.  The answer my friends is found using everyone’s favorite high school subject…Physics!

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this answer, we must first define what being faster means.  This part will not contain the physics I mentioned earlier, that will come later, so all you hardcore nerds out there don’t get mad at my definitions.  Being “fast” means different things to different people and depends on the situation.  All of the following examples below can be considered fast:

Running a marathon in 2-3 hours

Running a 4-minute mile

Running the 40-yard dash in 4 seconds

All of these however require different skill sets and require muscles to do different things.  In each example, the body is moving at a different speed.  From a strictly numerical standpoint, the 40-yard dash sprinter is the fastest since his speed is the greatest.  However, if we were to only look at the mile runner, we would consider him as fast.  In these examples, being labeled as fast is partly dependent on the situation.

The reason I bring this up is because in a certain context, I am faster than all of these runners.  I have never run a marathon but if I did, I’m guessing it would be in the 6-8-hour range.  My best mile run was just under 6 minutes and that was 15-20 years ago.  I’ve never been a good sprinter so I can’t even guess what my 40-yard time would be (although it would not even be close to 4 seconds).  However, throwing a side kick from a stationary position to someone’s rib cage I am fairly certain I can do at a greater speed than all of the runners above even at my current age.

I did not write this to brag about my being a fast kicker.  I’m confident there are many, many, many martial artists that are way faster than me.  The reason for this analogy is to identify what we label as fast and more importantly, what we label as not being fast.  You don’t have to be a superstar, Olympic athlete to be fast.  You just need to understand the context.

Obviously, as a martial artist, I am writing this in the context of striking an opponent, whether with a kick or punch or any technique for that matter.  Now, there are two fundamental components of being fast:

  1. Being physiologically faster
  2. Understanding distance

At this point it is important to understand the equation that defines speed (velocity without direction):

s = d / t

where s = speed, d = distance, and t = time.

I am going to define being “faster” as being able to strike your opponent in the least amount of time.  Using this definition, to be “faster” we need shorten the time (t) in the above equation.  There are 2 ways to do that:

  1. Being physiologically faster (increasing s)
  2. Understanding distance (shortening d)

Increasing speed (s) is a physiological process.  You train the fast twitch muscles in your body for optimal performance.  Doing sprints, plyometrics, footwork drills, and simply kicking repeatedly over and over in short bursts will improve kicking speed.  Improving flexibility will also have a positive impact on speed.  There are physical limitations to this, however.  Body type and age will have an impact on just how much a particular person can increase their speed.

The other way to be faster is to shorten the distance (d) between where your strike starts and where it finishes.  So, just be closer, duh!  It’s not that simple unfortunately.  The closer we get the greater the threat of getting hit ourselves.  In order to optimize distance and maximize how fast we can reach the target we need to do 3 things:

  1. Understand critical distance
  2. Disguise our motion
  3. Freeze our opponent

The critical distance is the distance at which we can get as close as possible to our opponent while still being safe.  Being safe refers to not being able to get hit.  Critical distance will vary slightly depending on the size and ability of your opponent.  A good starting point however is the two-arm distance: you and your opponent extend your lead arms and touch fists.  We can train to learn the critical distance using stance, footwork, and awareness.

If we start from a stationary position, casually move our body into the closest possible point in order to attack, our opponent will see it coming and move to negate the shortening of the distance we just accomplished (or worse yet, they’ll hit us before we try to hit them).  By disguising our motion, we get closer to the opponent without them knowing.  We also slow their reaction to our movement which will work to not re-increase the distance between us.  Constantly moving the hands in an unpredictable motion and keeping the feet moving, with slight bouncing of the toes will accomplish this goal.

The last thing we need to do to maximize our quickness is to make sure our opponent does not move. Unfortunately, the Mortal Kombat Subzero freeze move does not work in reality.  But utilizing fakes, feints, and other types of footwork will work to help keep your opponent from moving initially, just long enough for you to execute your technique.  Remember, if you keep your opponent from moving, you control the distance and can shorten it.  You also delay any counter technique your opponent may be contemplating.

I hope I was able to communicate effectively how controlling distance can make you faster even as your physical tools start to diminish or reach their peak.  

If it does not make sense to you, that is fine.  I explained a similar concept years ago to a friend of mine who is a great fighter, Master Wheeler.  He simply said, “I don’t know about all that stuff sir…just be faster.”  So, when in doubt, just be faster.

If you want any more information, tips, nerd talk, or videos on sparring (specifically distance control), please contact me at selmore@evergreen-tsd.com.

Taking a Break

I’m taking a break!  No, not me.  I’m not taking a break from writing.  Maybe that disappoints you as you were getting tired of my rants but if that’s the case, why are you reading this?  I’m writing about those dreaded words we instructors hear all too often, I’m taking a break.

For some reason, when I hear a student say those words, it’s like nails on a chalk board.  The reason for that is that I feel students don’t understand what they are saying.  What they mean to say is “I am quitting”.  I think people would rather say “I’m taking a break” because if they say they are quitting, they will be labeled a quitter.  As martial arts instructors we are guilty of instilling the belief that if you don’t get to black belt or don’t stay in martial arts for the rest of your life, you’re a quitter.

I am here to tell you that it is ok to quit.  When first starting out doing anything, we always have some objective.  We are trying to find the solution to a problem we are having.  Some of the problems people seek solutions to from martial arts are: losing weight, stress management, self-control, better focus, self-defense, confidence, something to do with the family, or just something that always looked fun and interesting (i.e. bucket list).  When first trying to find a solution to your problem you may try several different activities.  You may have your mind set on martial arts but try several different studios or styles.  During this period you will certainly quit several times before finding your fit.  I think we can all agree that you are not a quitter if you try different things in pursuit of finding a solution to your problem.

Now you have found that studio or activity or style that has a solution to your problem.  You are now in active pursuit of solving the problem you that caused you to start your search.  Here is where quitting gets tricky.  For me, I feel there are 2 criteria when sticking with something:

  1. It is fun
  2. It is solving my problem

When first starting something, we usually find an activity that meets both of these criteria.  Why do something if we hate it or it is not solving our problem?  However, after many months or years, one or both of these criteria may no longer apply.  I am going to tell you that if both of these criteria are no longer being met for an extended period of time, it is ok to quit.  You are not a quitter.  However, if only one of these criteria are being met, you should not quit (provided everything else in life is constant…more on that later).  

This is where perseverance comes in.  Not giving up when things get challenging.  If you’re not having fun but you are seeing improvement in your goal (losing weight, confidence, etc.) you need to figure out how to make it fun or just push through it until it is fun again.  If you’re having fun but have already solved your problem, find another goal.  In these cases you’re instructor is correct in trying to help you persevere and not quit.  A good instructor will help motivate you to push through your slump.  A good instructor will also recognize when these 2 criteria are not being met accept a student moving on as it is in the best interest of the student.

As previously mentioned, I cringe when I hear the words “taking a break”.  However, it is only when used incorrectly so as to avoid the stigma attached to being labeled a quitter.  There are many appropriate times to say “I am taking a break”.  A woman who is having a baby is taking a break.  A student who has a serious injury or illness is taking a break.  A student who pursues another interest or job temporarily is taking a break.  The difference is it is not open ended.  An indefinite break is quitting.  In order to take a break you must have a clearly defined time frame for your planned return.  Notice I say planned return.  It typically takes much longer than we planned to return to something after stopping and that is just fine, as long as we do get back to it.

We all have quit more things than we stuck with.  We are all quitters.  And that is ok.  Just make sure you don’t make it a habit of quitting everything you do.  If it takes you quitting 10 things until your find that one thing you stick with for the rest of your life, you are definitely not a quitter.  And remember, if you say you are taking a break, be true to your word and come back, until you do, it is not taking a break, it is quitting.

How safe is karate right now?

Before getting too far into this article I’d like to make sure the readers know a few things.  I am not a doctor nor am I an epidemiologist.  I have no background in medicine or medical research.  Please do not use this article as the basis for any decisions regarding your health or the health of people around you, including opening/closing of any businesses.  This article is strictly for informational purposes.  There are no political references either and I would appreciate that any feedback or comments please refrain from expressing any political views.  The following information are simply my observations and analysis.  So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Several times a week, I walk from my home to my karate studio.  I walk the 1.5-mile trek along the main street in my neighborhood which takes me through the business district.  Since March I have also kept very in tune to the closings and re-opening restrictions placed on businesses, being a small business owner myself.  I would often wonder where some of the restrictions and guidelines came from as they did not make sense.  As I took my walk to work, I would see firsthand how several types of businesses implemented these restrictions and guidelines in their reopening efforts.  The analytical brain in my head started to spew out questions that I needed answers to.  I even tried calling several of my local, county, and state officials but never got a hold of any concrete answers.  Perhaps with more effort I could have eventually reached someone with the answers I seek but I simply don’t have time to be on hold for several hours.  So, my brain was left unchecked and the following is what it came up with.  Please note that this is a theoretical, quick and dirty, analysis.  I have cited sources when appropriate, but this is certainly not a research paper quality work.

The following analysis is a comparison of 4 types of businesses.  I have witnessed first-hand these businesses operations and implementation of the state restrictions.  I am not going to name specifically any of the businesses.  All of these businesses are operating in accordance with the state restrictions, at least from what I have observed.  I am not being a snitch or whistleblower as these businesses are seemingly doing the right thing.  I am using these 4 businesses since they are all different and have different restrictions.  I intend to show that the restrictions have not been set forth correctly.

Before going any further, the following assumptions are being made for all four businesses:

  1. They all have equally effective ventilation systems
  2. Occupants adhere to social distancing 100% of the time
  3. Surfaces are cleaned in the same, thorough manner 
  4. Masks are worn by all occupants
  5. 100% of exhaled particles are airborne and stay airborne for 3 hours (more on this in a minute)
  6. Each business has the maximum, currently restricted, occupancy for one hour 
  7. All occupants are healthy adults who have the following stats
    • 20 breaths per minute
    • Each breath has a volume of 4L
    • Each breath contains 50 particles per L

For my analysis, I am going to determine how many airborne particles occupants are exposed to in order to determine level of safety.  I am conservatively assuming that all exhaled particles are airborne or aerosol and remain in the air for up to 3 hours (versus droplets that can travel up to six feet and give us or social distancing guidance).  It is unknown at this time if COVID19 is airborne, only in droplets, or some combination of the two.  If we assume 100% perfect social distancing, thorough cleaning of surfaces, hand washing, and everyone refraining from touching their faces, we can neglect the droplets for now.  Again, this is theoretical and should not be used as the basis of any safety decisions.

The four businesses I will be analyzing are: a large chain supermarket, a midsize fitness studio, a small hair salon, and my own martial arts studio.  For each business, the following analysis was done:

Building volume = (building sq ft) x (ceiling height)

Number of breaths per minute = (max occupancy) x 20 breaths/min

Number of breaths in one hour = (# breaths per minute) x (60 min/hr)

Total volume of exhalation in one hour = (# breaths in one hour) x (4 L/breath)

Total particles exhaled in one hour = (total exhaled volume) x (50 particles/L)

Number of particles/cubic foot = (total exhaled particles) / (building volume)

I argue that the total number of particles per cubic foot is an indication of how safe something is.  A few more variables before the results:

Supermarket ceiling height = 20 ft

Supermarket square footage = 20,000 sq ft

Supermarket max occupancy = 165 (1 person per 120 sq ft)

Fitness ceiling height = 12 ft

Fitness square footage = 1,500 sq ft

Fitness max occupancy = 14 (they have a sign on the door stating this number)

Salon ceiling height = 10 ft

Salon sq footage = 1,000 sq ft

Salon max occupancy = 8 (limited to 50% capacity)

Karate ceiling height = 12 ft

Karate sq footage = 2,500 sq ft

Karate max occupancy = 10 (5 per class, 1 instructor, assume 4 spectators)

The ceiling heights and square footages are mostly approximations based on observation.  When applicable, I looked up actual building square footage.  Max occupancy numbers are based on either stated explicitly by the business or are the max occupancy stated by state guidelines.  The karate school numbers are accurate as it is my business.

Using all of the above information yields the following results:

Supermarket = 132 p/cu ft

Fitness studio = 186 p/cu ft

Hair salon = 192 p/cu ft

Karate school = 80 p/cu ft

The above data is the number of exhaled particles in the air per cubic foot of space.  You can think of this as how many particles each person in the building is exposed to.  

Before I give my final analysis of the data, there are a few things to consider.  First, the supermarket data is most likely lower since rarely are supermarkets at max capacity.  The fitness studio and martial arts studios are likely higher since exercise will cause more exhalation on average.  The hair salon is also likely higher since it is impossible to social distance while getting your hair done.  Lastly, state law allows for participants doing “strenuous exercise” to not have to wear a mask, even when indoors.  I have witnessed the fitness studio participants not wearing masks on several occasions.  Their number is likely much, much higher (masks can reduce the number of airborne particles by an average of 55%).

Based on this analysis, I have made the following conclusions.  The restrictions set forth are arbitrary and do not take into account enough variables.  I am not determining which of the 4 businesses are the safest (sorry if the title of the article got you hooked).  That is for you to decide, I have simply supplied some data and information to help you decide.  As long as all businesses follow social distancing, wear masks, and follow cleanliness standards, their operations should be limited based on an analysis that looks something like this, not an arbitrary throw of a dart or a spin on the random restriction roulette wheel.

Another reason why the restrictions as set forth do not work is, they are based solely on business type. Building size, ventilation, HVAC systems, and overall cleanliness standards vary greatly in every industry. An 8,000 sq ft karate studio that teaches kids has the same restrictions as an 800 sq ft yoga studio that teaches only adults.

Furthermore, every state in the country has different restrictions.  Do people breath differently in Idaho than they do in Washington?  It is frustrating that things as important as people’s lives and livelihoods are not being considered equally across the country.

I would like to reiterate that I am not campaigning for businesses to open or for them to close.  That is above my pay grade.  I do feel though, that these decisions are being made based on either no data (arbitrary) or incorrect data (not taking into account all variables).

If you are trying to control the spread of any airborne illness, it only makes sense to me to place restrictions on all businesses equally based on what is deemed to be a safe level of exposure to airborne particles.

But, as Bill Maher would say, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.


Other Limitations

Some other random thoughts and limitations that could be used to refine the analysis.

  1. Determine social distancing effect.  Factor in time spent within another person’s 6 foot sphere of influence.
  2. Determine effect of overall time spent open.  For instance, my martial arts studio is open about 6 hours, 5 days a week.  The supermarket is open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week.
  3. Determine effect of heavier breathing when exercising, talking, etc.
  4. Determine the effect of age.  Kids take different breaths than adults.
  5. Determine the effect of touching things (items in a grocery store, pads at a karate school, equipment at a fitness studio, door handles, salon chairs, etc.)
  6. Percentage of droplets vs airborne particles and how likely the virus would be in either

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lung_volumes

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/jamp.2020.1616

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3123971/

https://www.georgeinstitute.org/news/social-distancing-and-exercise-is-15-metres-enough

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-coronavirus-spreads-through-the-air-what-we-know-so-far1/

Re-opening in the COVID19 world, initial thoughts after one week

After 5 months, my martial arts studio finally reopened on August 3rd. Leading up to that moment was filled with excitement, anticipation, and anxiety, to say the least. Some of the thoughts running through my head were (and some still are):

  • Can I ensure a safe atmosphere for the students?
  • Is it a safe atmosphere for myself?
  • Will students feel safe enough to return?
  • Will I enjoy teaching class in a new, contactless setup?
  • Will I get burned out teaching without assistance and doing extensive cleaning after each class?
  • Are the rules and procedures I set forth going to be followed and will I have to aggressively enforce them?

Many of these questions are still running through my head but after one week I’d like to reflect upon what I have learned.

In terms of safety, I feel we are doing the absolute best we can. I require masks, everyone is 6 feet apart during class, no one brings any equipment with them, everyone washes/sanitizes their hands upon entry, we do not yell or kihap during class, there is no partner work except amongst family members, the studio is cleaned after each class, there are 3 commercial fans operating, the internal exhaust system running, and the front double doors are open.

I am not naive in thinking that this is a 100% foolproof way to ensure no one gets infected with COVID. I am confident however that short of wearing full hazmat suits we are doing all we can to remain safe.

Furthermore, I feel that if what we are doing is not safe enough then we as a society need to go on full lockdown (not the semi-lockdown from earlier this year). My studio has stricter safety measures than hair salons, grocery stores, restaurants, and gyms. If operating in the way my studio is operating does not keep us safe enough than nothing is safe and we need to stay home.

In terms of the teaching of the class itself, the jury is still out. At least for the first week, we were able to do enough in class without a partner that people still got a good workout, improved skills, and learned something new.

I am hopeful I will continue to be able to modify curriculum for COVID safety such that students are learning and improving but at the same time not losing the very important skill of timing, targeting, distance, and physical toughness (there is no substitute for getting hit). As long as this situation remains temporary, lasting months rather than years, I think everything will be fine and students will actually benefit from the level of detail required to execute partner techniques without a partner.

One last note to end on. I love fighting. I love grappling. I love throwing people. I love hitting people. I love getting hit too. As long as the pandemic is raging, we will not be able to do these things. So, do the right thing, do your part to keep yourself and those around you safe. Follow the guidelines and recommendations of health officials. Use common sense. If we do these things, we can all get back to doing the things we love whether it’s fighting people or a having a beer at the bar with your friends (sometimes those two go together).

The (non) Importance of Rank

Disclaimer:  The following article may ruffle some feathers.  These are my opinions which are not right or wrong, they are just opinions.  You may agree with them and you may not.  Both are ok.  Please feel free to comment and give your opinion on the topic.

I’d like to discuss the importance of rank in martial arts and eventually the non-importance of rank in the martial arts.  I am going to break this down into 3 categories: colored belt, black belt, and master ranks.  The importance of rank in each category is different.  There are some overlapping concepts, but each is unique in its own way.

Colored Belt

Rank is at its most important at the colored belt level.  A student is just starting out and needs a rank promotion system for various reasons including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Defined curriculum; student knows what techniques are expected of them
  • Feeling of progress; student gains confidence by demonstrating proficiency at a certain level
  • Goal setting; student has something to shoot for and sees other students of higher rank as something to aspire to
  • Honor bestowed upon by instructor; student demonstrates not only technical aptitude but also characteristics that are not as easily defined such as respect, honor, loyalty, and integrity.  This becomes more important as a student progresses through the higher color belt ranks.

Black Belt

Rank still has significance at the black belt level although the reasons for it starts to change.  The black belt level rank promotion system is needed for the following, not limiting, reasons:

  • Feeling of progress; student gains confidence by demonstrating proficiency at a certain level
  • Goal setting; student has something to shoot for and sees other students of higher rank as something to aspire to
  • Honor bestowed upon by instructor; student demonstrates not only technical aptitude but also characteristics that are not as easily defined such as respect, honor, loyalty, and integrity.  This becomes more important as a student progresses through the higher color belt ranks.
  • Instructor hierarchy/experience; students begin instructing and gaining experience.  A first-degree black belt and third-degree black belt differ greatly in teaching ability and overall knowledge, which is apparent to just about everyone who sees them.

Did you notice that I omitted ‘Defined Curriculum’?  This was not a typo but rather an intentional omission.  At the black belt level, curriculum is not defined.  It takes many years to go from level to level in the black belt world but if you check the written requirements to achieve each rank it is very limited.  This is because there are so many more non-technical, impossible to define characteristics needed to be a higher-level black belt.  In addition, these things vary from student to student.  How do you define the required dedication, attitude, and character needed to be a 3rd dan?  It can’t be easily defined in writing, but a good instructor can spot it a mile away and be able to guide their students on their individual path to getting there.

Master Rank

In Tang Soo Do, a master rank is typically 4th Dan and higher, although this may vary depending on the organization.  It is at this stage that I feel the significance of the rank starts to get a little cloudy.  In my opinion, the importance of the rank is for the following reasons:

  • Honor bestowed upon by instructor; student demonstrates loyalty, dedication, and has gained experience under the instructor’s tutelage. 
  • Instructor hierarchy/experience; student’s knowledge and wisdom grow exponentially through experience over many years of teaching many students.  Students begin teaching others on the ways of being an instructor.
  • Necessary to continue the growth of an organization; if an instructor does not advance in rank, the students cannot advance, and the reasons outlined above in the colored belt and black belt sections do not apply.

At this level, there is little additional, concrete new technical curriculum.  It goes without saying that there should be improvement and wisdom gained as one advances through Master’s ranks but it is not easily quantified.  If anything, one’s technical ability starts to diminish due to age and years of hard training.  The majority of the additional learning is at the individual’s discretion with less coming from direct instruction from the individual’s teacher.

Now, here comes the controversy.  What does one do when their instructor passes away?  Add to that, they do not have any students remotely close to their rank?  Should they continue to be promoted simply for being active for a required amount of time?  Hmm…  I don’t claim to have the answers to these questions, that is well above my pay grade.  I just wanted to pose the question as I have thought about it a lot over the last few years.

Call me old school but if your instructor passes away, in order to advance in rank at the master level you should:

  1. Get a new instructor

and

2. Put in the time with that instructor

OR

  1. You have a student or several students who are ready for advance rank promotion and your rank is limiting them

and

2. You have put in the time and dedication well above the minimum standard

I received my 4th dan rank from Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin.  I had trained under him for many years and when I earned that rank, I felt pride in myself as well as gratitude for him.  He passed away in 2012 and Grandmaster Robert Beaudoin was named his predecessor.  I knew of him, but I did not know him.  He did not even know of me (to no fault of his own).  I decided I would try as best I could to forge an instructor-student relationship with him.  Over the years he started to get to know me, but it never felt like he was my instructor.  I would receive my 5th dan rank under him and although I was proud of the achievement, it did not feel the same as it did before.  Something was missing.  As I got to know him better, I started gaining much admiration and respect for him.  He passed away earlier this year, 2020.  I wish I could have gotten to know him better.

I find myself now without an instructor or mentor.  I question if I have the emotional capacity to put in the time and effort needed to begin the process of forging that lifelong relationship all over again.  I could advance in rank by putting in my time in any number of martial arts organizations.  However, I know in my heart it would feel even more empty than my previous rank promotion.

So, until I meet the criteria I laid forth in this article for achieving higher master rank, I will remain at my current rank and I am perfectly fine with that.  My experience, knowledge, skill, and ability will continue to improve through rigorous training, studying, research, and through the guidance of my peers.

I will end this article on one final note.  Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern karate, died at the age of 88 after a long and extremely dedicated life in the martial arts.  What rank was he?  5th dan (he was awarded 10th dan posthumously).  I think that sums it up quite well.

The Parking Lot Test

The following is a true story.  Only the names have been changed to protect the victims.  Just kidding…about the second part anyway.  This story you are about to read is completely true, however.

It was a hot, humid, late August weekend in a suburb of Detroit, MI.  As with many parts of the Midwest during the summer, thunderstorms are very common and often intense.  So intense in fact that power outages happen all the time.

I was 10 or 11 years old and a brown belt getting ready to test for red belt.  The test was scheduled for a Sunday in late August at a local YMCA where we had class.  The night before the test there was an intense thunderstorm that knocked out power all over the area.  I arrived at the YMCA for the test around 7:00am since the test started at 7:30am (yes, you heard me…7:30am).

When we arrived, we noticed my instructor and several other students and black belts standing outside the front door.  We waited in the car for a bit while more and more people showed up, but no one was still going inside.  We finally went outside and joined the crowd as we got closer to the scheduled start time.

As it turned out, the storm from the night before knocked out the power to the YMCA and they decided to close for the day.  Even if it were open, the gym we used for testing was in the basement with no windows.  There were several times I remember thunderstorms knocking out power during regular classes and it being pitch black.  Being this was pre-iPhone flashlight time, there was no way we could have had the test.  Notice the only concern at the time was having light.  The fact that it was late August after a thunderstorm in the Midwest and we could have been in a space without windows or air conditioning did not even register at the time.So, rather than cancelling the test and having the 50 or participants go home, some that traveled 30+ miles to get there, it was decided to have the test in the parking lot…of course!  It should be noted that there was a park adjacent to the YMCA that would have worked just fine, but I’m sure that was considered to cushy.  Everyone that had a car parked next to each other creating a giant square.  We had our test and our instructor took it easy on us.  We finished around 1pm instead of the usual 3pm (do the math, it was still a 5-hour test). We did everything we always did, basics, forms, weapons, sparring, breaking, self-defense, etc. all in bare feet on a sweltering cement parking lot ground.  Techniques were done with control but still done as they normally were done.

The reason I am telling this story is simple.  I want you all to know what a bad ass I am.  Just kidding.  Looking back at the test, I always felt it was like the scene from the Van Damme movie Lionheart, where there is an underground fight and they made a ring by circling all the cars around the fighters.

I was just a kid and my memory may be a bit hazy though and there is a chance it could have been more like the Seinfeld episode where they are all lost in a parking garage; no one confident about what to do next.  In all likelihood, it is probably somewhere in between these two extremes.

There are a couple of serious points I’d like to make regarding this event though.  For one, it is just a really cool story, one of which will probably never happen again.  

Another point is the fact that many people are probably saying right now, “Oh my gosh!  That was so dangerous!”.  Those people are correct, it was.  Thankfully no one got seriously injured.  If that were to happen today, there would certainly be serious injuries, complaints, and possibly lawsuits.  

However, it was less dangerous then than it would be now, even if it was conducted in the exact same manner.  The reason being lies in the way we train.  Right or wrong, we trained (even as kids) in a much more physically demanding, disciplined manner, making these types of tests less dangerous due to preparation.  The danger lies in asking someone to do something based on standards that don’t apply any longer.

I see lots of things get changed or lost because it is deemed unsafe.  Most of them are correct I might add and I agree with.  However, I would really like to see people address the real issues sometimes as well.  Four or more hours of testing are too long and unsafe.  Correct, if you train one-hour classes 1-2 times a week, this is accurate.  People need to take a water break every 15 minutes or so.  Correct, if the student is dehydrated and out of shape to begin with.  (Professional soccer players play a 90+ minute game with very few breaks.)

My last point is that I feel before throwing something out because it is deemed unsafe, let’s first examine the reason why it was the way it was.  Can we accomplish the same goal with our current training methods?  Can we change our training methods to make it safer?  With COVID19 changing just about everything we do, we need to be sure that when we change things to make them safer, we don’t alter the reason why they were there in the first place.

One of my (many) pet peeves: Spinning Back Kick vs. Spinning Side Kick

I am going to take a bit of pause from my recent rants and do a little technical article. One my martial arts pet peeves is the difference between a spinning back kick and spinning side kick. I feel that many practitioners these days don’t know the difference. In fact, I feel the spinning back kick is actually starting to be lost in lieu of the spinning side kick. Check out this video for my explanation of the difference between the two.

Spinning Back Kick vs. Spinning Side Kick

As I’ve written in previous articles, if we are not vigilant about preserving techniques, they will get lost. This is one such instance that I feel is on the brink of extinction.

Preserving the Old Normal

A new normal.  We are hearing it a lot these days.  The COVID-19 pandemic is going to go down as one of those events that change things forever.  A new normal.  Many of us remember what it was like traveling by airplane pre-9/11.  Keep your shoes on.  Not getting yelled at by TSA for forgetting that half full water bottle in your bag.  You could even greet family members at the gate.  People under the age of 25 will have no recollection of this.  The current air travel procedures are their normal.  Many things will change and not go back to “normal”.

The martial arts have gone through events before that have altered their course.  Hundreds of years ago martial arts techniques were passed on to a student or two from a teacher.  There were no formal styles or studios.  Information was passed on through generations via word of mouth.  Passing on information this way can lead to things getting lost or misinterpreted.  After 25 iterations of teaching Pinan/Pyung Ahn forms it can easily be seen how they turned into something entirely different than what they were originally intended to be…purple monkey dishwasher (Simpson’s reference anyone?).  This is not a specific altering event, it is simply the state of things.  When you add the following events into the mix, you get “new normals”. 

Before going further, I want to make sure everyone knows that I am not comparing any of the events below to the one we are going through now.  Some of these events are terrible, like the current situation, and others are not.  My point is to illustrate how these things created new normals in martial arts.

  1. Funakoshi’s systemization and structuring of karate in order to teach it to the masses.  To be successful in teaching a lot of people of varying abilities and interests, many things had to be left out of this new, structured approach.
  2. Japanese occupation of Korea.  When Japan overtook Korea before World War II, one of their goals was to obliterate Korean culture and history.  They wanted to assimilate Koreans into Japanese.  In doing this, many documents and history of Korean martial arts was lost forever.
  3. US bombing of Japan during WWII.  As part of its pacific campaign, the US firebombed the bajeezus out of Japan.  The tiny island of Okinawa was one such casualty.  Okinawa is considered the birthplace of karate and much of its history was lost.
  4. US soldiers returning stateside after WWII and Korean War.  Many US servicemen learned various martial arts while stationed in Asia during these wars.  When they returned, they wanted to continue the training so the brought over their instructors or started teaching themselves.  Teaching Westerners is a much different situation, requiring things to be done differently again.
  5. Kids martial arts boom of the 80s.  The Karate Kid and Ninja Turtles hit the scene and kids everywhere (including me) started martial arts.  Prior to this not many kids did martial arts due to the hard, physically demanding, disciplined approach.  Martial arts studios started realizing a lot more money can be made teaching kids and things were once again altered.

There are likely more that I am missing but these are the ones that I came up with off the top of my head.  We are now in the midst of another altering event leading to a new normal, the COVID19 pandemic.

There is not one martial arts studio in the entire world that can stick around doing things like they did before the pandemic.  This is a fact.  How can you apply a self-defense technique on someone from 6 feet away?  How can you teach a technique when you can only see 2/3 of the person on a screen due to online classes?  How can students learn something exactly the right way when most are doing online classes and restricted to a small space?

We are all adapting in order to survive.  My fear right now is that this is going to be a permanent new normal and the old ways of martial arts will slowly fade away and be forgotten.  I like throwing people.  I like seeing the look on someone’s face when I kick them in the head (with control of course…most of the time).  If martial arts turns into an activity that is done without a partner from now on, I’m not sure I want to be a part of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love basics and forms.  However, applying those basics and forms is where it is at for me.  

The one thing we have going for us now is that we live in an age of communication and education.  We all can easily document via writing, videos, recordings, social media, etc. what we have learned.  I for one am doing much more documentation during this time in order to preserve the what, why, and how of martial arts as I was taught.  I don’t want our knowledge and wisdom to be washed away because of the “new normal”.  Please join me in documenting pre-COVID culture whether it is in martial arts or any other significant aspect of life.  Hundreds of years from now, I hope people can say “We do it this way today because of COVID19 in 2020.”  If you ask someone why something is done a certain way in martial arts (prior to COVID) you often get either “I don’t know” or a made-up answer.  Let’s be sure our future generations have the right answers.

What It Means to Be One with Nature

Several years ago, a student approached me and asked me a question.  She said, “Master Elmore, I was reading a book on Tang Soo Do and it said that the ultimate goal of all Tang Soo Do practitioners is to become one with nature.  What does that mean?”  I had read this before many times as well but did not spend enough time thinking about it.  I always chalked it up to some of that mystical Eastern philosophy that is prevalent in martial arts.  Rather than responding with something that sounded like when you ask a politician a yes or no question and they provide a 10-minute response about a different topic, I simply said “I’m sorry but I don’t know.”  I barely slept that night because I was contemplating the question.  I was determined to figure this out both for myself since I don’t like not knowing something but also for my student because it is my job to teach her these things and find the answers to her questions.  A few weeks later, all the random thoughts I was having seemed to form a cohesive answer, at least in my mind.  Below is the what I came up with and passed along not only to her but to the rest of my students.  There is a lot of opinion here and I welcome any additional thoughts anyone may have.

Be one with nature.  It sounds like it comes from some 1960s tree hugger hippy commune or some sci-fi ability equivalent to using The Force.  What does kicking, punching, throwing, choking, and breaking stuff have to do with nature?  My first thought was to examine nature itself.  Nature can be peaceful and tranquil like a majestic redwood tree in the calm forest.  Nature can also be violent and untamed like a lion hunting down a gazelle.  What I quickly realized that helped me tremendously was to examine what nature is not. Nature does not pass judgement.  Nature does not seek revenge.  Nature is not egocentric; seeking fame, fortune, or material possessions.  Nature is pure and purposeful.  Even acts that are deemed violent like a shark attacking a seal are for a reason, typically for survival whether it be to protect themselves or their families or to eat.  Animals don’t attack other animals because they don’t like the color of their fur or because they came from the other side of the plains.  Animals aren’t lazy and glutinous, if they were they wouldn’t survive. 

With these statements in mind, I would argue that human beings are not only not one with nature, but we are not even a part of nature.  We destroy nature for our own personal gains, not for survival.  We harm each other with our words and actions for petty reasons like race, economic status, and sexual orientation.

Now let’s look at some of the teachings of martial arts and see if we can make some sense to how it helps us to be one with nature.  Martial arts teaches us to be respectful to one another, especially seniors. Martial arts teaches self-control, not letting egocentric views dictate our actions, especially if they are harmful to ourselves or others.  There is obviously a self-defense aspect to martial arts which can be violent if used.  However, we are taught to only use these actions as a last resort, when our lives or the lives of loved ones are in danger.  We are taught honor and integrity in martial arts, doing the right thing even when times are tough.

To me, it sounds like the things I stated above are naturally done in the natural world (no pun intended).  It also seems to be that we as human beings are generally lacking in these areas.

So, maybe we should think about being a part of nature before we are one with it.  I feel martial arts helps us remember these important concepts that nature just automatically follows without thinking about it.  I could be way off as to what it actually means to be one with nature and how martial artists should strive to achieve it but this is what countless hours of sleepless contemplation came up with.

The Lost Art of Time Management

When I was your age, I had to walk to school 10 miles one way, in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways, was able to get straight A’s, get all my chores done, play on the football team and keep a part-time job.  Sound familiar?  We’ve all heard stories similar to this from our parents and elders.  As I get older, I sometimes find myself going off on a rant about one thing or another that was “harder” when talking to younger students, namely high school and college age kids.  Bear with me but this article will have that kind of feel to it.  What does this have to do with martial arts you may be asking?  I’ll get to that too, just be patient.

In teaching kids over the last 20 years, I have noticed a steady trend.  Kids seem a lot busier, stressed, and overwhelmed then I ever was.  The onset of this also seems to start at a younger and younger age.  Middle school kids seem to have more homework and tests than I remember having in high school.  For a while, I thought this was simply due to kids having more to do and those things being more difficult.  After further examination, I realized this was true, but it wasn’t the only reason.  While listening to how kids go about their days, I realized they are in serious need of better time management skills.

Now to the old man, when I was your age story.  First of all, it is important to know that I started martial arts at 8 years old and continued with it consistently ever since.  There were ups and downs, times I trained a lot, and times I hardly ever trained but it always had a consistent presence.  When I was 19 and a sophomore in college, my instructor asked me if I wanted to be the chief instructor at one of his schools.  Without hesitation I said yes, getting paid to do martial arts for several hours a day, what could be better?  At this time, I was attending college in Ann Arbor, MI and the studio was in Flint, MI.  This amounts to about 50 miles one way, about an hour drive.  I would leave right around 3pm to make sure I got to the studio in time for the 4pm class, cutting it close several times.  Sometimes I would leave right after classes sometimes my classes would finish earlier in the day, but I never left classes early.  I would finish at the studio around 8:30pm-9:00pm and drive back, getting back around 10:00pm.  I did this 4-5 times per week until I graduated with honors in Aerospace Engineering.  Now, during this time, the following things happened: 1) I never missed an academic class, 2) I never stayed up all night studying (I stayed up all night doing other things though at times), 3) Always got at least 6 hours sleep on school nights, 4) had a full course load every semester (except the last term of my senior year because I only needed 3 classes to graduate), 5) was on the Dean’s list my entire sophomore year, and 6) had a very active social life.

I am not trying to brag; I am just trying to set the stage for my point.  I ain’t no genius.  There are plenty of really smart people that fail miserably all the time.  I attribute my ability to do this to hard work, dedication, and…wait for it…time management.

Now, I don’t plan on writing out how to be better at managing your time, this is a martial arts article after all, not a self-help seminar.  In fact, martial arts do not teach time management per se.  What it does teach is respect.

My first instructor, and every instructor I’ve ever had in fact, have been very adamant about being on time.  My first instructor was so intimidating, I was frightened to come to class late, so I made sure my parents got me there early.  The instructors I had after that were not as scary but still instilled the importance of being on time.  This taught me to respect another persons’ time.  There are many other lessons I’ve learned over the years that have taught me respect, too many in fact to mention here, perhaps a future article.

How does respect translate into time management?  We have finally gotten to the main point of the article.  If you have respect for other people, other people’s time, as well as yourself, you can’t help but manage your time better.  Here’s an example using my old many story from before.  It is a Wednesday; I finish academic classes at 2pm.  I have to be at the studio by 4pm to teach classes.  I have an exam at 8am the following day.  I studied for several days prior to this day because I knew I could not do it all when I came home from the studio at 10pm.  I get home and study from 10pm-12am then go to bed.  I wake up at 7am, rested, with enough time to have a good breakfast and get to the exam early.  I don’t see where the respect comes in., you may be asking.  Read on.

  • I was respectful to my martial arts instructor by fulfilling my commitment to teach even though I had an exam.  He expected me to be there and I could not let him down.  
  • I was respectful to the students at the studio by being rested and focused to teach good classes.  They took the time to come to class, it is my job to show them I value it by doing my best for them.
  • I was respectful to my academic professor by being prepared to take the exam.  He put in a lot of hard work trying to teach me the material and I owed it to him to show up prepared.
  • I was respectful to myself by getting enough rest and nutrition, so my mind and body were in the best condition to take the exam.
  • I was respectful to the other students in the academic class since if I fell behind, I would require extra help from the professor or assistants which takes their time away from them.

I could go on, but I think I made my point.  I see not only kids, but many adults too, not being respectful these days, especially when it comes to respecting other people’s time.  I don’t attribute my martial arts training to my time management skills, but I know for a fact that the respect for others I learned at an early age had a direct impact.