The Self-Defense Mindset

Have you ever noticed there are those people out there that you see walking around and say to yourself, “I wouldn’t mess with that guy!”  Sometimes it is their sheer size or the way they dress but often times it is their demeanor.  The first thing everyone needs to know in order to defend themselves is they must have the correct demeanor.

This may come as a shock coming from a karate instructor, but the physical techniques we teach only account for 10% of the overall ability for a person to defend themselves.  The other 90% comes from learning the self-defense mindset.  Almost every martial arts practitioner will never have to use their physical skills in order to defend themselves.  However, almost every martial arts practitioner will use the non-physical skills they’ve learned in order to defend themselves at one time or another, whether they realize it or not.

For this article I will be using the example of women’s self-defense.  The concepts I will be covering can easily be applied to any self-defense situation with a few differences.  In fact, I wrote a similar article using school age bullying as a context on my other blog, The Karate Dad.  If you have kids, I encourage you to check that one out too.

In order to understand what we need for the self-defense mindset we first need to get into the head of an attacker.  Attackers are predators and all predators seek prey.  Do predators seek prey that will be a challenge?  No.  They seek prey that are easy to catch.  The same is true for attackers.

In terms of women’s self-defense, attackers do not choose their victims based on who is more attractive, who is thinner, or who dresses the nicest.  They choose a victim that will struggle the least and not put up a big fight.

There are two basic principles you need to understand in order to minimize your chances of being a victim: awareness and confidence.

Awareness is required in order to not put yourself in a situation that an attacker would deem ideal.  What are some examples of these situations?

  • Running alone on a secluded trail
  • Leaving work late at night and going to your car in the parking garage alone
  • Walking home late at night after hanging out at a friend’s house

Get the idea?  Whenever possible, avoid these types of situations.  You’re probably saying, “It won’t happen to me” or “My neighborhood is safe”.  It only takes one time.  Why take the chance.  Get a running buddy.  Have a coworker walk with you to your car.  Take an Uber or cab home from your friend’s house.

Even with good intentions, or possibly just stubbornness, you will find yourself in a less than ideal situation.  When this happens, remember to focus your attention on one thing, remaining safe.  Don’t have earbuds or headphones on, listening to music.  Don’t check your email or text someone on your phone.  Keep your head up and use your eyes and ears to continually scan your surroundings.  If something looks or sounds suspicious, listen to your intuition and avoid it.  Take another route, go back the way you came, or find a well-lit public space.  If none of these are possible, get your cell phone out and call a friend or family member.  Tell them where you are and keep them on the phone until you get to your destination (don’t be in active conversation with them).

The second thing you need in order to minimize being a victim is confidence.  Awareness is much easier to implement than confidence.  Some people are just naturally confident, and others are shy and timid.  Building confidence takes time and work (more on that later).  Whether you have it or need to fake it, remember the following items to display confidence:

  • Walk with a purpose.  Don’t walk fast paced, run like you’re scared, or walk slowly constantly scanning everything.
  • Good posture.  Keep your back straight, chin up, and shoulders back.  Don’t slouch or look down at the ground.
  • Mind your hands.  Nervous, scared people fidget with their hands.  Keep your hands at your side, swinging them normally when walking or still when standing.
  • Eye contact.  If someone looks at you, even a stranger, don’t look down or away.  Look them in the eyes.  Don’t stare them down but let them know you see them.

All of these things are easily said than done, especially if you find yourself in a scary situation.  You may be able to fake it but it is better to have confidence outright.  So how do you build confidence?  There are many ways.  A few are listed below.

Take Martial Arts Lessons

Martial arts lessons build confidence through learning self-defense skills, getting physically stronger, and mental toughness through discipline.

Get Stronger

Running is great but getting your entire body physically stronger will help boost your confidence.  Seeing your body getting stronger not only makes you feel great, it will also help you in the event you are attacked.

Meditate

A calm and peaceful mind, free of doubt and worry will also boost confidence.  As little as 10 minutes a day can have a huge impact.

Get Support

Surround yourself with supportive, positive people.  Whether it’s friends, family, church members, co-workers, or class/group mates in your favorite activity, be sure you are network is a positive one.

Avoid Toxic People

Unfortunately, not all people in our lives are supportive.  Even friends and family members may consistently bring us down with negative criticism and comments.  Try to avoid or at least limit your interaction with these people.

These are just a few concepts in regard to having the self-defense mindset.  The next step is to build your awareness, confidence, and then start learning specific defensive skills.  If you would like more information or advice about self-defense please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Karate Is More Than Punching and Kicking

Karate instructors all over the world have often said “Karate is not about punching and kicking.”  While I agree with this statement, I think its intention gets lost at times.  I think a better statement is “Karate is MORE than punching and kicking.”  When making this statement, instructors are trying to inform people that in modern times we use the technical aspects of karate as a vehicle to improve students’ confidence, character, and overall health.  I feel it is important to understand the fact that we still need to effectively punch, kick, spar, and effectively defend ourselves in addition to improving confidence, character, and overall health.  If done properly, all of these things go hand in hand.

The theme of this article is not on the dissection of the above statement though.  I know that all good intentioned instructors attempt to instill confidence, character, and health to their students.  There is no debate there.  In fact, I am not even going to write about how instructors accomplish these goals.  I am actually going to flip the script and tell a story about how a student has taught me recently that karate is more than kicking and punching.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 8 months, you know that the world has been battling the COVID19 pandemic.  If you’ve been living in a cave, I am actually quite jealous since at times it sounds like a 5-star resort compared to everyday life as a small business owner during a global pandemic, presidential election, racial tensions, etc.  But I digress.

I am not going to go into detail or complain about the effects of the pandemic on my family, business, or overall well-being.  We have all been significantly impacted, me included.  My karate studio, which is my family’s primary source of income, was shut down for 5 months.  We reopened and face restrictions on how many students we can teach as well as what we can do.  We have students attend class online, but they also have restrictions since it is impossible to teach certain things online.

Needless to say, there are many times that I do not look forward to teaching classes.  The uncomfortable mask wearing, trying to figure out how do certain things while maintaining social distancing, worrying about if I or a student is in danger of being infected, and the constant cleaning takes its toll daily.

Recently, there has been a silver lining.  While there are still many things I enjoy and look forward to when I teach classes, the above negatives routinely outweigh the positives.  Two to three times a week there is a student who reminds me that karate is more than kicking and punching.  He unknowingly helps me forget about outside distractions and get back to having fun in class, things I have always tried to do for students. 

This student’s name is Liam and he is an advanced blue belt, one rank away from black belt.  Liam has been training with me for many, many years.  He started training when he was a little kid and is now 12 years old.  During the shutdown, Liam continued to train online at home.  Once the studio reopened, he decided, like many others, to continue training online.

Liam has a training area in his home that he uses when he attends classes online.  In this training area is a blue, free standing punching bag which he uses for some of the drills.  Several weeks ago, he logged on for class and I noticed there was a picture printed out and taped to the front of the punching bag.  I asked him to zoom in so I could see it and to my surprise, it was my face!  So, when Liam punches and kicks the bag, he is simulating hitting me!  I know he meant this as a joke and was not seriously using my face as his motivation to hit something harder (at least I hope).

The next class, there was a picture of Darth Vader on the punching bag, then Commodus from Gladiator the next day, then the Agent Smith from The Matrix, and each class a different bad guy.

At first, I was just eager to see what the next character would be.  Then it started to become a bit of a challenge and Liam would try to stump me.  There are many things I enjoy in life and useless movie trivia is near the top of the list.  I also tend to be a bit competitive.  Ok, maybe a little more than a bit.  What made this even better is that Liam’s movie choices were right in line with some of my favorite movies.

There have been many villains on Liam’s punching bag over the weeks and I can’t remember them all but here are some I remember that have not yet been mentioned:

  • Warden Norton from Shawshank Redemption
  • Biff from Back to the Future
  • Principal Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men
  • Snape from Harry Potter

I have to say my record is pretty good, but Liam does stump me from time to time.  Most notably he posted Kevin Spacey’s character from the movie Seven.  I was a bit disturbed until he told me his dad gave him that one.  Whew!

So, I’d just like to say, thank you Liam for brightening up these dark times and helping put things back into perspective, reminding me why I am an instructor.  I look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

The COVID Black Belt Test – Why we shouldn’t do them

The COVID19 pandemic has been going on now for nearly 7 months.  Many karate schools like mine were shutdown for 3-6 months.  Some continued to offer classes online during the shutdown.  Most schools have reopened for live classes in some capacity while still offering online or live streaming classes as an option.  While nearly all karate schools have reopened, I don’t think any schools are operating or teaching their curriculum the same way they did prior to the shutdown.  I have heard of some schools going on with classes like normal including sparring and grappling.  This is reckless and irresponsible, and it infuriates me.  That being said, the vast majority are doing the right thing and socially distancing, wearing masks, limiting class sizes, amongst other things.

With all of the restrictions and modifications, those of us teaching responsibly are teaching our curriculum in a much different way.  The style I teach, Tang Soo Do, is roughly 50% forms/basics and 50% self-defense/sparring.  The self-defense and sparring (one step, three step, free sparring) require a partner.  The 50% that requires a partner are currently being modified to be done individually in order to adhere to social distance guidelines.  These modifications consist mostly of drilling the technique individually to improve muscle memory.  We are essentially doing these techniques as forms.

The partner activities we do in our curriculum are intended to improve distance, timing, accuracy, precision, and control (ourselves and control over our partner).  Doing sparring/self-defense as forms will not improve these things.

I have seen and heard of many studios doing black belt tests virtually or live but under these new modifications.  So essentially students are being tested on only forms and basics.  I myself have done a few colored belt tests virtually since the pandemic began but I’m not sure how I feel about a black belt test.

Proponents of doing these modified black belt tests will argue that the student has worked hard, has a great attitude, continued to train, and should be tested for black belt since the pandemic is not their fault.  The student should not be punished for something out of their control.  While these arguments make sense, I still find it difficult to test and possibly promote someone to a black belt doing only 50% of the curriculum, not having to spar anyone, and not having to demonstrate technique’s effectiveness against another human being. 

Let’s think about it another way.  Let’s say you are a great student; you train hard and have a great attitude.  One day you slip and fall on your way to work and break your arm.  You have a cast that immobilizes your arm for 6 months.  You continue to train during these months as best you can but have to modify things and can’t spar or do contact drills.  Should you get to do a modified black belt test?  Most of us would say no, just wait until you are healed and do the full test even though this person meets all the criteria of a COVID black belt testing participant does.

If the broken arm was a permanent limitation, most instructors would be ok with some sort of modification for this student to earn a black belt.  They would need to be able to do everything in the curriculum with some acceptable modifications but certainly would not be able to not do 50% of it at all.

Guess what?  The entire planet has a broken arm right now.  Correction, the entire planet has broken every bone in its body and is in a full body cast.  It will heal though.  We can’t do black belt tests based on modified curriculum.  It lessens the meaning of the black belt.  Those who earn black belts doing a modified COVID test are not respecting those who came before them.  Just like the student with the broken arm, wait until you are healed and do it fully.  It will mean so much more due the increased level of dedication, perseverance, and patience it required to get there.

We tell our students to be patient all the time.  Why are we not doing it now?  Are we scared they will quit and won’t pay us?  If promoting someone to black belt doing lesser curriculum is the difference between going out of business or staying in business, well, you do what you gotta do.  I would opt to go out of business.  There is no price tag on integrity.

I will say that if how we are teaching and modifying becomes the new standard, then yes, a new version of a black belt test is warranted.  We aren’t there yet.  We would need to come up with an entire new test that allows students to demonstrate proficiency in being able to defend themselves, proper timing, accuracy, toughness, and physicality without the use of a partner.  That is a big undertaking.  Simply doing techniques without a partner does not accomplish these goals.

So, to all students out there close to black belt and instructors of these students, be patient.  Utilize this time to improve your skills, learn new ways of doing things, dissect techniques to better understand them, and just train for the sake of constant and never-ending improvement.  Don’t worry about what is around your waist, worry about how much you can fit in your brain and heart.

The Theory of Evolution – Karate Style

The following article is a theory I have developed regarding the evolution of karate techniques.  It is not a research paper; I don’t have sources or references.  This is simply an idea I have regarding how techniques in karate became to be what they are today.

When first starting karate, we learn basic techniques: blocks, kicks, stances, punches and strikes.  Kicks and punches are easily understood as to how they are used but the traditional blocks and other strikes with the hands seem too elaborate.  A low block that starts with the blocking hand by the ear, the other hand low, and ends with the blocking arm above the knee with a reaction hand at the side in a deep front stance seems a bit too much to be effective.  I am not arguing the purpose or usefulness of basic techniques as they are done today, I am only offering a theory as to their origins.

I argue that a low block is not really a low block, a high block is not really a high block, etc.  Not only that, they were never meant to be what we call them today.  These moves were given labels that evolved into ‘blocks’ or ‘spear hand’ in order to simplify them and teach them to a larger audience.

In order to understand this theory, we must go back in time to the beginning of martial arts.  Fighting methods began their development thousands of years ago for just that purpose, to fight.  Whether to defend oneself or in warfare, martial arts first started for use in combat.  After a while, some people became very proficient in fighting and others wanted to learn from them.  These first martial arts teachers would teach their fighting styles to 1 or 2 students and would consist mainly of actual fighting.

A short time after fighting methods began being passed down from teacher to student, forms or katas began to be developed.  The purpose of these forms was for students to train more when they don’t have a person to practice with.  They also served as a blueprint in order to pass on information.  There were no manuals or YouTube videos to reference at the time.

Forms continued to be the main source of knowledge sharing for many years.  In fact, in karate, I would argue that they continue to be so.  Around the turn of the 20th century is where I think things start to get interesting.  Wars and global conflicts introduced more people to these fighting systems and the interest in learning them soared.  In order to appease the masses, these systems needed to be formalized so as to be taught to large groups easily.

Rather than teaching long intricate forms and their corresponding application in combat, they were broken down into individual, single techniques in order for students to learn in smaller steps.  Think about it.  If you had to teach a form with 50 movements to a group of 50 students who meet a few times a week, you would have to break it down into small chunks.  

These single techniques became standardized and given names corresponding to what they look like. Hence a “low block” is called low block because that’s what it looks like.  The application of the movement is more likely an armbar or throwing motion, but it is much easier to call it a “low block”.  These labels also made it easier to document techniques when writing became more prevalent as a way to pass on knowledge.  If you say low block to a karate student, they can visualize it easily and most would think of the same thing.  If you say armbar or throw, there are many things that come to mind and everyone would likely think about it differently.

Fast forward to present times and now these labels are the standard.  A low block as defined at the beginning of this article is in fact a low block.  Right or wrong, I feel like the majority of basic hand techniques we do are mislabeled.  I am not suggesting we stop doing them or call them something different.  I just suggest we take the time to understand things better and respectfully question the origins of techniques that don’t seem to make sense from a practical combat situation.

How Long Does It Take to Get A Black Belt? Part 3

This is the final installment in my discussion regarding the time it takes to earn black belt rank.  In the previous two articles I discussed time requirements up to 6th Dan.  I argued that using training hours instead of minimum number of years to achieve rank makes more sense, or at least shows how much of a discrepancy can occur.  This article will discuss time requirements for the highest level of black belt.  It should be noted that these are just my opinions and I fully recognize my youthful short sidedness.

I am going to argue that minimum time requirements are irrelevant and should not be applied to the highest dan ranks.  First of all, the individual’s pursuit of rank at this level should not even be a factor.  If someone is only doing martial arts so they can be called grandmaster, they shouldn’t be a grandmaster.  My sole criteria can be summed up in the following statement if anyone is asked if an individual should be promoted to grandmaster:

“Duh, that’s a no brainier!”

Essentially there is overwhelming evidence that this person needs to be promoted.  Not should, needs.  It is not for the individual but for others.

Some things I think should be included in that no brainer conclusion are:

Has several masters under them

Has a student ready to assume their current rank

Travels to many areas to teach the art

Has a thorough knowledge of the art including history, philosophy, and application

Now, how long does it take to accomplish these things?  Who knows!  These aren’t simply boxes to check on an application.  Each of these things takes years to accomplish the no brainer status.

To me a grandmaster is more of an ambassador of the art.  They have dedicated their lives to spreading the art to all who care to listen.  Having an extensive knowledge of the art is clearly a prerequisite.  

Simply teaching in your own studio in your own town is great but I don’t feel staying confined in your small corner warrants the title of grandmaster.In the previous 2 articles I mentioned how many training hours it actually is to achieve black belt ranks.  I am not even going to put a number on how many training hours individuals at this level put in.  It is like counting the stars in the night sky.  You can’t count them because there are so many.  The training hours per year of a grandmaster eclipse those of all previous ranks by at least 10 times.  It is much harder to define since the “training” consists of so many things.  It is not just taking classes or teaching classes.

When I think about what it takes to be a grandmaster I can’t help but think of the late Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin, founder of the World Tang Soo Do Association.  He said, “Black belts teach students, Masters teach black belts, and Grandmasters teach Masters”.  He also remained an 8th Dan for about 30 years while many of his former students left him to branch out on their own and became 9th Dan.  Regardless of what path my personal journey in martial arts takes me, he will always serve as the standard model in my eyes for what a grandmaster should be.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.  I would be more than happy to share my system with anyone who is interested.

How Long Does It Take to Get A Black Belt? Part 2

This is a follow up to the article I wrote last week regarding how long it takes to reach black belt.  In that article I showed how students are earning black belts in the same amount of time although they are doing it in less actually training time.  This is resulting in students learning less curriculum, requirements being simplified, and overall quality in many areas going down. 

In this article I will expand upon those observations while examining the black belt ranks and the time to achieve each subsequent degree of black belt.

In most Tang Soo Do systems, the minimum amount of time required to achieve higher black belt rank is the number of years of that rank.  For instance, 2 years after 1st Dan to achieve 2nd Dan, 3 years after 2nd Dan to achieve 3rd Dan, etc.

In the previous article I showed how determining time requirements in years rather than training hours can result in a large discrepancy in how much time students actually spend training.  I actually do not have a problem with this.  The skill level and ability at higher black belt levels is much more difficult to define.  I feel qualified instructors do a good job in teaching students the necessary requirements to advance in dan rank.  There is a lot more judgement involved and less clearly defined requirements in going to 2nd and 3rd Dan as opposed to 1st Dan.  Therefore, the minimum time requirement is just that, a minimum.  There seems to be a lot less of a hurry to get students to higher dan rank than getting them to that 1st degree black belt.

Some instructors feel that they need to get a student to black belt in order to keep them from quitting.  Once they get to black belt it seems like there is less of a quitting concern and instructors really start to fine tune students with less of a strict schedule to follow.

For the most part, from 1st to 3rd Dan I don’t have much issue with time requirements.  It’s after 3rd Dan that things start to get a little murky in my eyes.  The minimum number of years training equal to the degree of black belt still holds true in most Tang Soo Do systems (i.e. 4 years from 3rd Dan to 4th Dan).  However, the definition of “training” is what I’d like to dissect.

In my opinion, for 1st-3rd Dan, the bulk of your training is taking actual, physical classes being taught by an instructor.  As you go from 1st to 3rd Dan your teaching responsibilities will increase which I also consider training.  A lot of knowledge and wisdom are gained through teaching.  However, as I mentioned, this is not the majority of the training at this level.  There are those outliers who become an instructor very early on and do not take physical classes as much as the need to but for the most part, the class to teaching ratio is heavily leaning towards the class end.

Somewhere around 3rd Dan there is a shift in training going from taking physical classes to more heavily focused on teaching.  As I mentioned, I still consider all of this training.  However, the time requirements get a little harder to understand.  Let me explain.  Let’s take a look at two separate 4th Dans on their paths to 5thDan:


4th Dan –  A:

Teaches part-time at a health club, YMCA, community center, etc.  Teaches 2 classes a week for a total of 3 hours per week to about 30 students.  Trains individually or with others informally for another 4 hours per week.

Total Weekly Training = 7 hours per week

Total Yearly Training = 364 hours per year

Total 5 year Training Time = 1,820 hours


4th Dan – B:

Is a full-time instructor who owns his own studio and teaches around 80% of the classes.  Teaches multiple classes per day, 5 days per week, for a total of about 15 hours per week to about 150 students.  Trains individually or with others informally for another 4 hours per week.

Total Weekly Training = 19 hours per week

Total Yearly Training = 988 hours per year

Total 5 year Training Time = 4,940 hours

I fully believe that at 4th Dan and higher the emphasis should be on knowledge, experience, and wisdom over sheer physical attributes (although I still feel physical abilities should remain very high at this level).  Which of the two 4th Dans above has more experience, knowledge, and wisdom?  The one with nearly 3 times more training hours most likely.

The concerning thing is that in most Tang Soo Do systems, the above two individuals will likely be promoted on the same schedule, after the same minimum number of years since their previous rank, all other things being equal.

So, my conclusion is, just like in my previous article, more emphasis needs to be put on training hours versus just time spent on the planet.

Peter Gibbons in Office Space said it best.  “You can only ask a person to work hard enough to not get fired.”

It seems to me that the definition of time spent between ranks in not consistent right now with what it was originally intended to be.  This minimum is actually getting lower.  Five years of training now is not what it was when these time requirements where instituted.  As with the lower ranks, I feel that adhering to the old time requirements is hurting the quality of many Tang Soo Do black belts.

My analysis and discussion in this article only relate to black belts up to around 5th Dan.  At 6th Dan and higher I think things change once again and require different discussions.  I will examine those in part 3 coming later this week.  Stay tuned!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.  I would be more than happy to share my system with anyone who is interested.

How Long Does It Take to Get A Black Belt?

How long does it take to earn a black belt in your martial arts style?  This is a common question I get when potential students call/email/stop in to inquire about training.  For as long as I have been involved in Tang Soo Do, the answer has always been approximately 4 years on average.  I am always sure to add the caveat that this is an average and every student is different.  Some can do it in as little as 3 years and some take 10 or more years.  Tang Soo Do, like all martial arts, is an individual activity.  Everyone’s journey is different.  A lot has changed in the 32 years I have been involved in Tang Soo Do but the time to black belt has remained the same.  I have done a lot of thinking on this topic and have done a little analysis that will hopefully open some eyes.

For this comparison, I will look at 3 different times:

  1. The 1960s when US soldiers trained overseas and commonly earned black belts in a year or so
  2. The late 1980s/early 1990s during my early training years when it took an average of 4 years to earn a black belt
  3. Present time (2020) when it still takes an average of 4 years to earn black belt

It should be noted that I did not train in the 1960s (I wasn’t even a sparkle in my parents eye at the time) so I base my information on things I’ve heard from my instructor as well as others who have trained at that time.

  1. 1960s

During this time, US soldiers stationed in Korea would train almost every day (5-6 days/week) for 3-4 hours each session.  I’ve heard from many sources that a student could earn a black belt in around 1 year.  So, the number of hours trained comes out to the following: 5 days/week x 3 hours/day x 52 weeks/year = 780 hours/year on the low end and 6 days/week x 4 hours/day x 52 weeks/year = 1248 hours/year on the high end

Time to black belt = 780-1248 training hours

2. Late 1980s/Early 1990s

During this time, the classes I trained in met twice a week for 2 hours and 15 minutes each.  So, the number of hours trained comes out to the following: 2 days/week x 2.25 hours/day x 52 weeks/year = 234 hours/year x 4 years = 936 training hours

Time to black belt = 936 training hours

3. Present – 2020 

During this time, most students train twice a week for 1 hour each class.  I know many studios that actually have 45-minute classes in fact.  Also, there are a lot of studios that ramp up their training as they get closer to black belt so I will assume 2.5 classes per week as an average. So, the number of hours trained comes out to the following: 2.5 days/week x 1 hour/day x 52 weeks/year = 130 hours/year x 4 years = 520 training hours

Time to black belt = 520 training hours

Based on this examination, you can see that when I first started training, the time required to black belt was roughly on par with what was required in Korea in the 60s.  You can also see that the training hours required now are much, much lower.  In fact, to equal the number of training hours, students would need to train for an average of approximately 7 years to earn a black belt.

I would like to reiterate, in case you missed it at the beginning, that these are averages.  I am fully aware that the path to black belt is an individual pursuit that is unique to every student.

Now, in case you missed this too, the title of this blog is Master Elmore’s Martial Arts Rants.  So, it is time for a little rant.  However, after the rant I will actually provide a solution.  For those of you that are in Tang Soo Do and have been for 20+ years, you probably did not need to see the numbers to know that we train less now than we used to.  Why is that?

  1. More kids in class.  Kids have lower attention spans and get bored easily.  We have to limit classes to 1 hour so they don’t get bored and quit.  This is a business decision to have shorter classes.
  2. Shorter classes means more classes means more students means more money.  Again, this is a business decision.
  3. Everyone is so darn busy these days.  People can only manage one hour twice a week for an activity because they have so much on their plate whether kids or adults.

With the current Tang Soo Do ranking system of 10th gup – 1st gup – Cho Dan Bo – Black Belt and students testing every 3-6 months, you get about 4 years to black belt.  Why is this important?

Students need to test and earn a shiny new belt every 3-6 months or else they will get bored and quit.  We are impatient and require instant gratification to keep us interested.  Yet another business decision.

With less training time to achieve black belt, how can students learn all of the required material with a high level of aptitude?  Answer…they can’t.  Over the last several years I have noticed curriculum being cut out, requirements getting easier, and quality waning.  The areas I see the most change are in physical fitness and combative skills (sparring and self-defense).  These two areas require a lot of time and tough, physical training, much like in the days of old, to achieve.

Now here’s the good news.  There is a solution.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  We can keep the business decisions of shorter classes and frequent tests while still maintaining curriculum, requirements, and the number of training hours.  The answer is to add more rank.  I won’t go into full detail, but I devised a system that involves 22 ranks to black belt.  Before yelling blasphemy hear me out.  I didn’t add an 11th gup or use a red/white/blue belt.  All I did was break down some of the ranks to allow more time to be spent at that rank.  For example, instead of going from 6th gup to 5th gup, students go from 6th gup to intermediate 6th gup to advanced 6th gup to 5th gup.  Students who put in more training hours and are able to execute the curriculum at a high level can progress the more traditional route of 6th gup to 5th gup.  Make sense?

I have been using this system for a few years now and am pleased with the results so far.  I think it is important that if we change to keep up with the times, we not change the outcome only the way we get there.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.  I would be more than happy to share my system with anyone who is interested.

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/