Sunday, October 31, 2010

What are you preparing for?

Martial arts training has become quite common today.  Ranging from thinly veiled daycare programs through MMA competitors up to professionals who must use violence on a daily basis.  Take a moment, and think about why you're training.

Some people train because they've got friends doing it, and the class is a social event.  Others train to compete, whether in traditional style tournaments or MMA.  Still others train because they've experienced violence, and want to be ready if it ever happens again.  There are people who train because they train; they enjoy the physical challenges and wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they weren't training.  And some people train because they have every reason to expect to need effective skills in using force.  (Let's not even consider the people who train because someone makes them...)

Nobody's purpose in training is superior; they're all merely different.  But that purpose will shape how you train.  A sport karate competitor has to train to understand, use, and apply the rules of the event.  A rape or domestic violence survivor's training may be very different -- and may have to be conducted with great sensitivity and care.  A cop, correctional officer, or soldier may train differently from each other -- and very differently from the guy who's simply "doing" martial arts because it's more interesting to him than bowling or going to an ordinary gym.

Think about why you're training.  Then assess how you conduct your training.  If the two aren't in harmony, you're not going to get the results you want.  If you're training to be able to effectively impose force on a resisting or combative subject in the streets -- you have to have partners who do that, and you have to do things like scenario training.  If you're training to win the next MMA event -- you need to spend time working on the various aspects of that game.  Including the conditioning  necessary to last through your fight!  And so on.  If there's a conflict between your training and your goals, start looking for weighs to fix it!

Minor housekeeping note

Readers may notice that the tone or voice of posts and comments under Piedmont Bando change occasionally.  Nobody here suffers from multiple personality disorder.  Instead, all of the instructors of Piedmont Bando have the ability to post and comment here under the main name.  So, sometimes it might be Jim, sometimes Debby, even occasionally Tristan...  If you're curious who wrote what -- ask us!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Training Responsibilities

Training mirrors life. When we begin training, our responsibilities are few.  Show up, follow directions, practice on your own.  As you advance in training, your responsibilities grow.  You may be asked to greet new students or assure that the facility is cleaned and prepared for class.  You might be asked to instruct new students or lead warm ups.  One day, you may find yourself responsible for a class or club.  Seems like it's a simple idea.  The teacher teaches, the student learns.  But there's more to it than that.

Let's start by looking more closely at a student's responsibilities.  To simply say show up and train is to almost trivialize it.  Students have the responsibility to show up in class.  To focus on class, and listen to the instructor and participate with integrity.  Why do I use integrity?  Because it means wholeness, not just honestly.  When you're in class, BE in class.  Bring the required equipment.  Pay attention; leave outside matters outside.  Don't chat about unrelated matters, don't disrupt class by being a what-if monkey..  Give an honest and intent effort to the exercises and drills.  If you've been training for months, and still can't do any more pushups than your first night... something's wrong.  You may be asked to assume other responsibilities, like unlocking the training facility, greeting or teaching new students.  You should be trying to bring a few new faces around... how else are you going to be sure to have playmates?!  If you're not specifically assigned something, and it needs doing -- step up and do it!  Unless it's something you don't know how to do or shouldn't do for some reason.  A visitor should never feel ignored or unwelcome, for example.  Every student can at least say "Hi, let me get the teacher for you."

But the responsibilities don't stop and start at the training hall door.  In my classes, we don't spend huge amounts of class time on pure fitness type exercises.  We don't have that much time, and I'd rather spend it focused on improving your skill, not your endurance.  So you have to spend some time outside the training hall to develop your phsyical fitness.  And you have to practice outside of class -- so that we don't have to spend class after class after class on the same material.  My teacher used to tell us how he'd go to see his teacher, and they'd work on the same move, again and again, from one session to the next.  My teacher finally realized that the reason they kept covering the same thing was because they didn't have it right yet! 

A teacher has responsibilities, too.  The teacher has to attend class, too!  There's no class if there's no teacher, just as there's no class if there's no student.  The instructor's primary responsibility is to be ready; have a plan, both for a particular class and for several months down the road, and to see that the training is accomplished safely.  The teacher should have some idea and plan to help each student reach their personal best.  The teacher also has to practice -- or the students will surpass the teacher!  That doesn't mean that a teacher's time is spent repeating the same basic drills or that a teacher who can't recall a particular form or kata on the spur of the moment is irresponsible.  Nor does it mean that the teacher should be bringing huge stacks of detailed lesson plans, or notes handouts.  But a teacher who consistently spends no time on training or preparation until they walk in the door...  They're probably being rather irresponsible.  There's plenty more here (like being able to be humble enough to recognize when you're not helping a particular student by your teaching)... but I'm going to move on.

There's another type of responsibility to consider:  Who is responsible for your training?  One of the hardest lessons, but biggest keys to growth is accepting that ultimately, YOU and YOU ALONE are responsible for your training.  Your teachers can put the information out -- but it's up to you to actually work with it and make it yours.  And -- eventually, it becomes your responsibility to seek out the training you need.  You might identify these needs through your own practice and even get guidance from your teachers -- but at some point, the spoon feeding has to stop, and you have to seek out what you need.  And you have to be responsible for your own development within the martial sciences.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Challenge of Teaching (part II)

You spend years training, and you finally earn your black belt.  One thing leads to another, and you find yourself running classes more and more often, or you start a club or school of your own.  You're going to get plenty of training in now, right? 

Got news for you...  Getting your own training in is one of the greatest challenges of teaching.  If you're teaching the class, who is going to look at what you're doing?  If you're teaching the students various things... when do you advance your own knowledge?

Teachers have to spend a lot of time that students don't see preparing for class.  This includes things like putting a lesson plan together, and making sure the facility and gear is available and ready... but it also has to include your own training.  I practice something for at least a little bit, every day.  I don't feel I practice enough!  There are things I can work on while teaching, like if I'm sparring a student, I can practice evading just enough...  but there's a limit to how much I can practice that way.  And there's a limit to how much the students may push me all too often!  So a teacher also has to find time to advance their own training by working with others who are able to review and correct them. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Challenge of Teaching (part I)

There's a great challenge in being a teacher.  You have to find a way to present the lessons you were taught faithfully, but still adapting them to the needs of the students today.  And their ability to understand them...

That's one of the big challenges for a teacher.  I can take a brand new student, and try to teach them to the level that I'm currently at.  I can try to teach them all the nuances and elements that have taken me decades to learn, acquire, and assimilate.  Of course, that means that the student will take many hours to learn even a single punch...  And a lot of students just don't have that sort of patience.

Or, I can try to give them enough to get them started... without overwhelming them, and recognizing that it won't be perfect.  Now, they'll learn that first punch -- and maybe several -- in a single lesson... but there'll still be a lot of work to do.  And sometimes, the students develop an "I already know this" attitude when you revisit and refine the material.

In my classes, I try to find a balance.  I try to teach a student a couple of punches and a couple of blocks in their first lesson.  I make it clear that they're not "learned" yet, that there's lots more to refine, too.  But I'm also trying to give them enough tools to join the regular class...


Why do I take students to competitions?  Sporting events have rules, and they aren't like a real fight.  I'll say that again: a sporting event, even MMA, is not like real street violence.  But I still think it's worthwhile for students to participate in competitions.  Why?

Well, first, it's fun.  I don't know about anyone else, but I like to win things and to see how I can do with against other people that I don't see everyday.  Sometimes, it's neat to see how my training is progressing compared to a buddy or friend that I see around.  Winning a trophy is an ego stroke.  Losing to someone I thought I should have beat is a motivator to train harder.

But I'm not a fan of doing things in training that don't serve a better purpose than just having fun.  And competitions definitely serve other purposes, too.  They're a different form of pressure.  We know that under pressure, the mind goes blank.  The more different forms of pressure we can be exposed to, the less likely we are to go blank under a new situation.  Or at least not completely blank.  So participating in a competition is also a gauge about where my students (or my own) training is setting with regards to handling pressure.

We also learn other things from competition.  We learn about sportsmanship and character, and how to handle different developments in life.  For example, I recently took some students to a tournament.  Along the way, a mistake in scoring was made, and one of my students was improperly awarded a place too low -- and another person was elevated.  I was able to get things straightened out -- but how the students reacted to the situation (and when) gave insight into their character.  We get a chance to practice handling an unfair result, sometimes, too.  I've seen tournaments where the odds where stacked in the favor of one school or another, for one reason or another... 

But it's important also to separate winning trophies and awards in a tournament from performing well.  I was taught that it wasn't the trophy that measured whether or not I succeeded -- it was my teacher's assessment.  Had I put his lesson's into play as I fought?  Did I perform the form well?  If Joe said I did -- I knew had, regardless of what some judge said or thought.  Victory was employing my teacher's lessons -- not winning the trophy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How do you repay your teacher?

Many martial arts teachers devote countless hours to their classes. It begins in their training before they become a teacher; it takes years to earn the right to teach, generally. Then it continues both in class and outside of class as they prepare lesson plans, make time to practice on their own (it's often very hard to train effectively while you're teaching...), attend clinics and seminars to further their own knowledge so that they can share it with students... And the list goes on. Even for the commercial studios, I know several that the owner has to either maintain a side job or even a full-time career because the training hall doesn't come close to supporting the family. Personally... I've probably spent several tens of thousands of dollars out of my own pocket -- not even counting paying club dues when I was a student! And I don't even know where to count the time invested.

Why does a teacher do this? How do you pay your teacher back for all they give you? I'm not angling for donations or justifying class fees; I don't and will not teach Bando commercially. Trust me... our club isn't anywhere near in danger of becoming a full time job for any of our instructors!

It's actually simple. Practice. Train. If you have the opportunity down the road to pass along the art -- do so faithfully. Repay our time with your time; repay the thought and effort we put into your training by practicing on your own, by taking the lessons to heart and making them your own.

So, how much should you practice on your own? That depends. How good do you want to be? Master Manley has said:
If we are to reach
heights of extreme Excellence
Being completely without flaw
Then we must strive
to make it at least that
before we make it more.

Master Manley's response, if you ask him if he's any good at martial arts is that "They say I am... I don't know. I'm still training."

So... Ask yourself: Have I repaid my teachers? Am I still training?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How have you paid for your training?

Over the years, I've attended many clinics and seminars and tournaments, and who knows how many hours of training... One thing I've seen happen often is the gaggle of people who haven't seen each other in many weeks or even years catching up. It's great to see people you've missed, and to hear how they've been doing... Other people are stretching out, loosening up, and getting themselves ready to train.

But I've noticed something else happen, too. A couple of people are usually running around, grabbing brooms to sweep the floor, or setting up the sign-in table, carrying in the training gear, and generally doing all the stuff that makes training possible. At the end, while everyone else is swapping training tales or saying their good-byes, those same folks are running around, putting stuff away, pulling up the tape that marked the sparring rings, and otherwise cleaning up.

I've heard many senior members of the ABA talk about how they'd show up expecting to train with Dr. Gyi. And he'd start by handing them a paint brush or pointing to the lawn mower. Or just start by unloading a trailer and setting up the camp. Manley & Davis in Dynamics of Bando write about how training camps with Dr. Gyi would begin with cutting the grass in the field where they'd train, and cutting down the trees they'd use for training. Why'd the training begin like that? Why'd their training start with chores? Was it some sort of Karate Kid-like training through chores? No. It was paying for the training time.

There's a huge amount of work that goes into preparing a clinic or seminar and running it. (Or the time that a teacher spends on his own housework is time he could use training or teaching...) There's even more work that goes into running a tournament. But it goes a lot quicker and lot easier with more hands.

There's also a lot of truth when we say that people don't value something they're given for free. Or that comes too easily...

So, ask yourself: How have you paid for your training? Are you going to be one of the people watching someone else set up... or are you going to get out there and help so that everyone can get down to training sooner?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How to be a superhero...

Rory Miller's blog yesterday is worth reading, so much so that I'm stealing it entirely:

That's Amazing!

in some places, I swear, having a triple-digit IQ qualifies as a super power...which got me thinking. About this list:

(send no money now, 90 day free trial on all super powers! Change your life at no risk to you!)
  • Paying Attention to What You are Doing: this power makes you a force to be reckoned with, a model of efficiency. Something, especially on the highways and byway of our world, unique and effective.
  • Finishing the Hard Stuff First: Normal humans stand staring with jaws open as you walk away from a job well done while they are still twiddling their thumbs, making coffee and getting ready. You work out, as they get ready to think about working out.
  • Really Listening: For most people, a conversation is just a shallow attempt at getting their own ego stroked by people just as self-centered. With this super power you can gather information, learn things, make friends and be considered wise, intelligent and caring.
  • Get Off Your Ass and Do Stuff: We have superpowers to get stuff done, right? But even with superpowers, we actually have to get off our asses and do things. Act. This superpower not only allows you to get stuff done, the purpose of all superpowers, but by doing stuff you Learn things. You Get experienced. This superpower, over time gives you other superpowers! How is that fair?
  • Being Nice to People: A subtle superpower that allows you to make friends, alleviate suffering and even be proud of yourself.
  • Say What You Mean: one of the most dangerous superpowers, this two-edged sword can make any group you work with more efficient, but may make normals uncomfortable. It's complementary power, Mean What You Say, has surprising force.
Superpowers within the reach of everyone. Try one today!

Really, people. Right there. Give it a try. They're free.


And, one more thing Rory has said:

Here's the deal:
  • Get off your ass and do stuff
  • Challenge your own assumptions
  • Have fun
You've spent your whole life trying to be a good person. You're also a perfectly good animal.
Go play.
There's a link to Rory's blog off to the side there. Not the worst place to spend some time...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Suggested reading, take 1.

Training involves more than the physical. Sure, we need to spend time practicing our skills, and strengthening and stretching our bodies -- but we also have to exercise and work our mind, too. In no particular order, here are a few books I recommend taking some time with.

Meditations on Violence, Rory Miller.
Rory's walked the walk, and he talks the talk. He retired from working as a corrections officer, where he quite honestly dealt with more criminals day in and day out than most cops do. He also spent some time in a hot, sandy place, as a teacher. It's sometimes unsettling, but definitely worth the read. And re-read. (Oh, and he's got another book soon to come out, titled Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected.)

On Killing, David Grossman.
David Grossman is a retired US Army colonel and psychologist. He's currently a public speaker, focusing on the psychological effects of violence, especially of killing and being exposed to life & death conflicts. His work is based on lots of interviews and discussions with people who've been there... and he openly admits he hasn't. I don't agree totally with everything he says -- but he's got a lot of good points. And, especially for the military and law enforcement, if you get a chance to attend his Bulletproof Mind presentation... go for it. (I suspect the cd/audiotape version is much the same... but I don't think all of his dynamic presence will come through.)

Training at the Speed of Life, Ken Murray.
THE guide to scenario based training for law enforcement and the military. And scenario based training is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for real violence.

Karate-do:My Way of Life, Gichin Funakoshi.
The autobiography of the "founder" of modern karate. Funakoshi is credited with introducing karate to Japan from Okinawa, and shaped lots of how karate and many other martial arts are trained today. There are some good insights for any martial artist in learning about his training and his life.

Unfinished Murder: The capture of a serial rapist, James Neff.
Very interesting insight into the story of a real-life serial rapist in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The author got to spend a lot of time with Ronnie Shelton, and it gives a really powerful insight into what goes into the making of a serial rapist -- especially since it's probably not much more than luck that he never became a serial killer.

For Bando students... Dynamics of Bando by Joe Manley and Lloyd Davis is essential reading. The insights into these giants of our system and their training is invaluable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


There's a lot involved in good training... but the most important thing is to simply get out there and do it. We sometimes say that "only perfect practice makes perfect" and it's easy to make the leap from that to "if I can't train perfectly, I shouldn't train." Nothing could be further from the truth!

We all have days that our energy isn't there or stuff distracts us and the monkeys rule the brain. Those are sometimes the most important days to train! Do something... Force yourself to do a drill, review a form, practice your stance... DO SOMETHING! Why? First, training often fixes those issues for you... Second, reality doesn't give us warning and time to be psyched up and ready. Learning to work through those periods in training gives you the tools to work through them in reality. Finally, repetitions count... "Perfect training" is training done properly, with the right technique and principles... not being in a perfect mood or mindset.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Welcome to the blog site of Piedmont Bando of Northern Virginia.

You'll read posts here by any of our instructors -- and occasionally by others -- that we hope will help your training, offer insights, or just be of interest. Some will be short -- others longer. They may be prompted by real life experiences, or by stuff that happens in the training hall. While they'll generally be related to the martial arts, and especially the art of Bando... we might surprise you sometimes.

If you're interested in training with us, get in touch. Visitors and prospective students are welcome.