April 21

Make It Your Own: Martial Arts Tips from Geoff Meede and Eddy Parker

Make it your own.

That was the overarching concept behind two of my favorite sessions at the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame this year.

Martial arts instructors tend to do teach in a relatively similar fashion. The moves may be different, but generally, they begin with a certain set of movements, then gradually increase the difficulty by adding in body movement or more techniques.

The attendees, for the most part, tend to lose the individual techniques as soon as they move on to the next combination. I would guess that most people lose the techniques they were taught within a few days, maybe a week.

Maybe I’m just forgetful, but I can’t tell you the exact techniques I’ve learned at almost any seminar because we didn’t practice them repeatedly during the session, and I probably didn’t work it enough at home.

However, martial artists should look for what Eddy Parker and Geoff Meed were showing in Indianapolis. The techniques themselves don’t matter.

Find what works for you, and use it. 

Mr. Eddy Parker teaches kung fu in Peoria. Starting his training under his uncle when he was 5, the 40-year-old has more than three decades of experience. Because he’s based in Peoria, I’ve been able to get to know him fairly well over the past several years. A stand-up comedian/shoe salesman/security guard, he has a broad range of experience in life.

One statement he made that resonated with me was to make what he was showing my own.

It’s true.

I’m not going to be an expert in hung gar kung fu any time soon.

However, I know enough about karate to recognize similar movement patterns.

For instance, one of his self-defense techniques looked an awful lot like a kihon. Instead of doing Mr. Parker’s prescribed set of techniques, I switched it up and added some karate flair to it.

“Everybody look over here,” he shouted.

And he asked me to show my technique. He loved it.

Geoff Meed, an actor-turned-school owner, expressed the same philosophy.

Borrowing techniques from his kempo experience, such as “vengeful dragon” – which he said he thought was a bizarre name – he first told us to “follow the script,” so to speak, when it came to performing the movements.

After each person in the group had a go at it, he encouraged us to make it our own and try to be more realistic.

These were both excellent sessions with fantastic martial artists.

Next time you go to a seminar, pick out what you like and what you don’t like. Use your art as a basis to see if those techniques would work in your style. If not, drop it. If so, then figure out how to optimize it for you and your art.

April 18

Master Ken Roasts the 2014 USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame

It’s ironic that I was awarded Karate Black Belt of the Year by the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame when just hours earlier I’d traded in my black belt for a white belt in Ameri-Do-Te.

Let me explain.

I love to laugh, and I love the martial arts.

So imagine how stoked I was to learn that Master Ken would be doing a presentation at the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

Master Ken is a character played by Matt Page on his YouTube show, Enter the Dojo (note: It might be considered PG-13 for mostly language).

The style of the show is perhaps best described as “The Office” meets “Karate Kid”. The show centers around an egocentric martial arts instructor named Master Ken, who teaches his own homemade brand of fighting called “Ameri-Do-Te” to a band of misfit civilians.

Source: KarateByJesse.com

Master Ken and Sensei Bockler pose

Master Ken and Sensei Bockler pose

For nearly half an hour, Master Ken entertained the crowd of several hundred and provided evidence to support his claim that his martial art truly is “the best of all, worst of none.”

He dissected various martial arts, pointing out their supposed inefficiencies and calling them irrelevant and outdated.

“Krav maga? What a joke. They don’t even use the belt system. They give each other patches like a bunch of Girl Scouts.”

Then he turned his attention to roasting various martial artists in the crowd.

Master Ken confused Ed Parker, the father of American kenpo, with Eddy Parker, the kung fu stylist out of Peoria, before immediately turning to tai chi chuan instructor Steve Aldus.

“Tai chi is the only martial art to be officially sponsored by the AARP,” he ribbed.

Finally, Master Ken brought up some volunteers to demonstrate various Ameri-Do-Te techniques, which I’ve not included in the video.

Master Ken mentioned that his program was offering a black belt exchange, in which all the scores of black belts in the room could give up their belts for an Ameri-Do-Te white belt.

After this segment, I took Master Ken up on his offer.

“Sorry, sir,” I said. “I don’t have my black belt with me because it’s in my room.”

“That’s fine,” he replied. “Just promise to burn it later.”

Master Ken has officially accepted Sensei Bockler as a student of Ameri-Do-Te

Master Ken has officially accepted Sensei Bockler as a student of Ameri-Do-Te

What a fun gimmick. I would have loved to have chatted with Matt Page about the character and the show because I appreciate his DIY approach.

I guess if you’re an 11th-degree black belt, though, you only have so much time to give.

December 17

The History of Martial Arts Belts

It’s said that white belts who train long enough would eventually become black belts due to a collection of sweat, blood and other grime that affixed itself to their belts. As a result, these dirty white belts would eventually darken and become recognized as black belts.

That sounds like an excellent story, but it’s just that – a story. Many sources state outright that it’s a myth. Others don’t mention it at all in their history of martial arts, suggesting to me that this story is not the case.

Jigoro Kano

Jigoro Kano, founder of judo

So, what’s the real story?

Using a belt – obi in Japanese – is a relatively modern way of displaying one’s rank.

Dr. Jigoro Kano, who developed judo in 1882, introduced the concept within his new art as early as 1883, according to Neil Ohlenkamp, a world-renowned judoka. Kano used only white belts and black belts to begin with. Ohlenkamp says colored belts were not used until judo spread outside of Japan, when Mikonosuke Kawaishi introduced them while teaching to Western students in Paris in 1935.

“(Kawaishi) felt that Western students would show greater progress if they had a visible system of many colored belts recognizing achievement and providing regular incentives. This system included white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple belts before the traditional brown and black belts.”

Prior to the introduction of belts and the kyu/dan system in general, Ohlenkamp says students were presented with certificates or scrolls, “often with the secrets of the school inscribed.”

However, in Secrets of the Samurai, authors Ratti and Westbrook say that using colors to define ranks goes back as many as almost 1,300 years:

“There are indications that some of the feudal ryu of bujutsu also divided their students into ‘as many as nine grades of achievement,’ and that the device of using colors to identify ranks, after all, traces its roots as far back as the bureaucratic system of the Heian culture…”

Each school uses a different ranking system, likely set forth from the organization with which they are associated.

Be sure to read about how to say your rank in Japanese, and watch how to tie your belt.

December 10

How to Know What Belt You Are

You probably think it’s pretty easy to tell what belt or rank you are. And you’re right.

martial arts beltsBut there’s a little more to it than just the color that’s tied around your waist (see: How To Tie Your Belt).

In many martial arts systems, students wear either belts or sashes. Metamora Martial Arts uses belts, so that’s what we’ll stick with here.

Belts are divided simply as colored belts – kyu ranks – and black belts – dan ranks.

Within each of those, you can break down the ranks even further. For example, colored belts have multiple colors, and black belts have multiple degrees.

In our system, we use six colored belts at each stage. I will list them out here followed by how you would say it in Japanese.

  1. White (hachikyu)
  2. Yellow (shichikyu)
  3. Blue (rokukyu)
  4. Green (gokyu)
  5. Purple (yonkyu)
  6. Purple (sankyu)
  7. Purple (nikyu)
  8. Brown (ikkyu)

The Japanese numbering system for kyu ranks counts backwards from black belt. A brown belt, for example, is one step away from a black belt (ichi is one, so ikkyu is one rank), while a green belt is five steps away (go is five in Japanese).

Within each of the colored belts, we typically break it down even further. For example, white through green belts will earn three stripes on their belts before being promoted to the next one. In other words, white belts must earn three stripes before attaining a yellow belt.

Students earn these stripes by being taught and then practicing the requirements for each rank. Tests will be announced well in advance so that a student has a chance to earn a promotion.

Note that martial arts schools across the world have different belt systems in place, and ours is just one example.

Unlike colored belt ranks, the numbers go in sequential order starting at the dan ranks, starting from first-degree all the way through 10th-degree. I’m a nidan – a second-degree black belt – and ni is Japanese for two.

As a sign of respect, black belts should be addressed at least by using Mr., Mrs., Miss and then that person’s last name, unless they say otherwise. Many teachers prefer to be called by their teaching title. Frequently, you’ll hear this as “Sensei (first or last name here).” You may also hear such titles as joshu, deshi, kyoshi, hanshi, o’sensei, master, grandmaster, and more.

Tip: In Japan, this formal title is actually placed after the person’s last name. For example, one of our alumni is teaching in Japan, and is referred to as “Katch-sensei.”

Bonus tip: Some view referring to yourself as a sensei as being amateurish.

I will post a future blog that talks a little bit more about the history of the belts. This was meant as an introduction to belts and ranks, and I hope I’ve provided that for you.

Now that you’ve read a little bit more about our belts, do you have any questions? Leave a comment, as others may be wondering the same thing.

November 26

What The Knockout Game Teaches Us About Self-Defense

If you’ve paid attention to national media this week, you’ve more than likely heard about the “knockout game.”

According to reports by CNN, the Today show, USA TODAY and others, the game takes place when young people randomly assault strangers in an attempt to knock them out with one punch.

Source: USA Today

Well, that certainly sounds terrifying.

Surveillance video screengrab of a knockout game victim

This screengrab from Yahoo shows a victim of the knockout game.

NBC’s Today Show first alerted me about this supposed game. But after some online research, I discovered that – like always – there’s always more than one side to a story.

Yes, The Daily Beast reports an increase in this type of violent crime:

Overall, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2012 crime report, there were an estimated 127,577 assaults with “hands and fists” in American cities with more than 250,000 people, a 0.7 percent increase from the previous year. The “knockout game” may or may not be a new phenomenon, but with a few instances out of tens of thousands of assaults, it’s not a trend, and media outlets shouldn’t treat it as one.

However, the New York Times contains a segment that seems to have been ignored by some mainstream media outlets:

[P]olice officials in several cities where such attacks have been reported said that the “game” amounted to little more than an urban myth, and that the attacks in question might be nothing more than the sort of random assaults that have always occurred.

In fact, Slate has even gone so far as to say that the right-wing media are further stereotyping black youths:

Crime happens to every type of person, and is perpetrated by every type of person. What makes the false narrative of the knockout game—or any “black mob violence” story—crop up every year is the fact that some people will always believe the color of someone’s skin predisposes him to commit a crime.

Because “crime happens to every type of person, and is perpetrated by every type of person,” take some steps to protect yourself from this supposed knockout game.

  1. Walk in a group so they can attend to you immediately if you are hit.
  2. Stay in a lit area when possible. Video cameras and witnesses will be able to see the altercation more easily.
  3. Maintain the three principles of self-defense: stupid stance, dumb distance and helpless hands.

If you’re interested in learning more about joining our kids or adult karate classes, contact us!