Safety in Structure – Defending head-on attacks

BJJ and MMA instructor John Will shows how three simple physical structures can be used to much better effect than a ‘block’ when the chips are down and fists start flying.

BJJ and MMA instructor John Will shows how three simple physical structures can be used to much better effect than a ‘block’ when the chips are down and fists start flying.

BJJ and MMA instructor John Will shows how three simple physical structures can
be used to much better effect than a ‘block’ when the chips are down and fists start flying.

The human body is a structure, to be sure, but also a fluid and mobile organism. Our form is set, but only to a point; and as such we have the physical ability to restructure ourselves to suit a whole variety of different tasks, be it a spear-like shape to easily enter water, a ball to forward-roll out of a fall, or a wedge made with extended arms to cover our head as we crash in on an attacker.

The use of ‘structures’ to provide protection is no new idea. Castles, forts, walls, bunkers, tanks and the like have all been used to good effect for a long time, some for tens of thousands of years. Historically, protection through the use of structure often meant a trade- off in mobility: by building a wall between ourselves and our enemy, we gained protection but were often condemned to hold position and forfeit our ability to retreat or advance. Likewise, the more heavily armoured the tank, often the slower or less manoeuvrable it was.

Other smaller types of structures, such as the shield, gave us both mobility and protection, albeit limited in the latter — and again, the larger and thicker the shield, usually the more cumbersome and restrictive to the warrior. Similarly, armour for the head and body was another great innovation, and many different incarnations of each have been used by warrior cultures worldwide for thousands of years, from the steel exoskeletons that encased the Medieval knights to the relatively lightweight Kevlar vests and helmets worn by our soldiers today.

So, the concept of using structure of some kind to provide protection from the onslaught of an enemy is certainly no new idea.

Even though we need not wear battle armour in the street (speaking to those who work outside of front-line law enforcement, of course), in hand-to-hand combat it is somewhat instinctive for all of us to respond by creating a structure to provide protection, even if no external implements are at hand. Think of a situation wherein an untrained person finds themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of punches — and ask yourself, where are their hands?

Usually, in such a situation, the hands are held up (in some loose structure) around the head in an effort to ‘hide’ from the strikes. So, in one way, we are all innately hardwired to seek and create protection in structure when things have gone beyond our control.

The benefit of building and utilising structure to provide defence is that it is a skill that can be developed relatively quickly with very little training. It offers a very big return on investment in time, especially when compared to the development of skill-based defensive strategies like ducking, weaving, slipping, parrying, footwork, smashing attacks with solid blocks (as used in karate, for example) that require heavy conditioning, and so on.

There are various different kinds of bodily structures that we can use to meet an attack at close-quarters, each offering its own strengths and weaknesses. Here we will take a look at several that I have found to be very effective and easy to use.

The Foxhole

I was originally introduced to this structure in my early silat training in Indonesia during the late 1970s. I coined the name ‘foxhole’ myself because it reminded me of hiding inside a mobile foxhole.The way I learned it back then is still pretty much the way I teach it today. 

The way I learned it back then is still pretty much the way I teach it today. The idea is to create the structure by locking your lead hand onto the top of your head with your elbow pointing directly at the opponent; at the same time, your other hand locks onto the middle of your leading forearm in such a way that your vision is not hampered.

The basic idea is to then run at the opponent as hard as you can and ‘spike’ him with your elbow — and then follow up with either striking techniques (as we did in Indonesia) or grappling/clinching techniques (as I often teach today), or a combination of both. Hence, I often refer to the utilisation of this structure and entry as the ‘foxhole and spike’.

The Diver

The ‘diving’ frame is a concept I first learned in my early Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. My epiphany around this concept came when I learned headlock escapes on the ground, as the idea of creating a strong frame between ourselves and our opponent was very central to the most basic headlock-escape techniques. Taking this frame from its horizontal application on the floor to a vertical application on our feet was also something I learned in BJJ, albeit as a defensive measure, as demonstrated in this article.

It is interesting to note that it can also be used as a way of taking the initiative and ‘blasting’ into an opponent again to set up either clinching or striking combinations. It is also very easily formed from the standard passive negotiation stance commonly known as the ‘fence’, whereby our palms are out as we use both hands to subtly control the distance between us and our opponent. From this (mobile) position, the arms are halfway to forming the diver frame already.

The Visor

The visor, again, is a very useful structure for crashing in on an opponent. I put this together myself after being asked to develop a training package for some security staff many years ago.

The big benefit of this particular structure is that it can be ‘pre-fabricated’, if you like, during the negotiation stage of a potentially violent altercation; meaning, we can stand with our arms folded (that is our basic structure) and as soon as we need to, we can then lift the whole structure up to protect our head, and charge forward. As we crash into our opponent with the visor, we will nearly always be able to find our opponent’s head with our lead/top arm, thereby setting ourselves up for some strong knee and elbow attacks.

Structural Decisions

Each of the aforementioned structures has its advantages. The foxhole-and-spike is great for crashing in hard and ramming the elbow into our opponent before following up with takedowns, clinching or more striking. The frame is a great defensive strategy — we use it to create a strong wedge between our opponent’s striking arm and neck, and it is also very useful for establishing some initial control against an armed attack. The visor’s strength is in that while being easily disguised as a casual and inoffensive negotiating position, it is very good for crashing in on an aggressor safely and setting up an outside collar-tie grip for either grappling or knee techniques.None of these structures are designed for ‘sparring’; they are all about moving forward explosively, either to surprise the opponent

None of these structures are designed for ‘sparring’; they are all about moving forward explosively, either to surprise the opponent with a pre-emptive move or to turn the tables on them immediately as they launch their first attack. With a little practice, the foxhole, frame and visor can provide excellent protection from head strikes, which are far and away the most common way people are injured or knocked out in street altercations. I very often use structure-based defence when running or designing specialised law enforcement and military-specific defensive tactics courses, largely because they are not only highly effective but require comparatively little training to acquire efficacy.

Watch Techniques


Read more expert opinions here. 

Source: Blitz Magazine

Friday night lights out

Sensei Howard Quick on the reality check he was given when working as a bouncer. 

As a young bouncer, Sensei Howard Quick and his fellow security staff became the target of four brawlers’ Friday night fun — but the expectation of back-up was the biggest problem. 

Quick’s Shinkendo sensei Obata Kaiso demonstrates one of many standing arm-locks in the jujutsu arsenal.

I was working as part of a regular security team inside a nightclub venue when we were called by the girl at the desk: “There’s trouble in the tavern; Glenn’s been attacked.” Glenn was a crowd controller who generally stayed within the tavern/gaming lounge area of the facility, occasionally helping us out in the nightclub. Glenn looked like a blonde Brendan Fraser; he always had a smile on his face and was a really easy-going, polite, friendly guy — but he seemed to be a magnet for troublemakers.

We ran into the tavern to find Glenn had been headbutted and appeared to have a broken nose. The attackers — four of them, from memory — were just on their way out the door. There were two plain-clothes police detectives in the gaming lounge at the time of the incident who said, “We’ve called a car…do whatever you have to do to stop those guys.”

We took off out into the car park and confronted Glenn’s attackers, immediately

sparking an altercation. One of the guys launched a couple of punches at me, which I deflected before sweeping out his leg. I then rolled him straight onto his stomach and went into what we call a ‘step-over shoulder lock’.

This is a particularly good jujutsu hold for this situation as you can keep standing and maintain the lock with just your legs and weight transfer, leaving both of your hands free. While I was standing with the guy locked up on the ground at my feet, one of the other assailants tried to ‘bulldog’ me (charge at me), so I leaned to the side and deflected him. This resulted in the lock being intensified, so his mate on the ground let out a squeal. I remember saying to the guy in the lock, “You can thank your mate for that.”

The guy who charged at me was then met with a right hook from one of our other guys, and he went down with a nasty cut on his forehead. He just crawled over to the kerb and sat there, defeated, covered in his own blood (head cuts bleed an incredible amount).

So…l was still standing there with the one guy locked up, face down on the ground, and the bloodied older guy, probably 40-ish (I was about 25 at the time), was just sitting on the kerb looking dejected. I saw another guy being held by one of our team, and one other, the smallest, youngest looking of Glenn’s attackers was also being held but was yelling, ‘We’ll come back and get you arseholes’ or something to that effect.

The next thing that happened surprised me — the older, bald-headed guy, still sitting on the curb bleeding, said “No, we came here to take these guys on…and they were better than us…we’re done. They beat us fair and square.” I just looked at him thinking ‘What?’ It seems we were their Friday night entertainment. I had a bit of respect for the guy for his honesty, but it was extremely unusual to hear something like that.

On this occasion it was over quickly but the police took their time. When they finally arrived, I was not impressed. They were from a different station to the Werribee detectives who called them, and we had a very good relationship with the Werribee police — they knew we weren’t ‘thugs’. (On a different occasion one of them actually said to me, “We usually take our time getting here when you guys call us, because we know you will have it all sorted by the time we get there, and we won’t have to do anything”.)

But these four or five officers immediately went into a huddle, occasionally looking across at us like they were trying to figure out what to do. As I’d been holding this guy at my feet for about 20 minutes by then, I started to get a bit annoyed. I asked a couple of times, “Can you PLEASE come over here and cuff this guy?”

Eventually one of the officers came over, but after watching her fumble with the handcuffs for a couple of minutes, I grabbed the cuffs off her and did it myself. After taking all of our details — and never once asking us to explain what had happened — the ‘senior’ officer proceeded to tell us how we would “most likely be charged with assault” (We found out later the two detectives had explained to the officers what had taken place).

We were all disappointed at the way the police went about handling the situation. At no stage was a report done and we were never given the opportunity to explain what had led to them being called. So I assume the offenders were never charged as they should have been. In my experience this was commonplace within the crowd control industry — the attitude was like, ‘You’re a bouncer, being assaulted is just part of your job.’ It wasn’t really considered assault to hit a bouncer — but maybe things have changed in the last 20 years?

Looking back on that particular event, I believe we handled the situation very well. The guys I worked with at the time were all decent people who always acted in a completely professional manner — there were no thugs or egomaniacs looking to prove how tough they were. They were tough men and didn’t need to prove it, but I always knew that someone had my back.

Before any of these incidents I always felt a little apprehensive, but I was there to do a job and there were others relying on me to back them up, too, so it became ‘business as usual’. Once it starts, everything just happens so quickly that you have to rely on your training as well as a bit of gut instinct.

I don’t ever remember really thinking in such situations (at the time), but afterwards I could usually picture the whole event like it was a scene from a movie or a short video clip. I never seemed to feel the adrenaline dump either; perhaps because you go in with the attitude that it’s why you’re there to begin with — ‘This is the job I’ve chosen to do…so I just do it’.

My martial arts training affected everything I did when I was working as a crowd controller, from awareness of a situation and my surroundings to the no-nonsense response when violence occurred, and on to effecting a satisfactory result (in the aforementioned case, locking the guy up face-down on the ground).

One of the main things I stress to my jujutsu students is awareness; be aware of your surroundings and be aware of the people around you. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you have to resort to using your physical skills; that should always be a last resort — especially as you never know how the law may treat it.

Read more on self-defence here.

Source: Blitz Magazine

The enigma of courage

Fight, flight and the psychology of choosing

Budo is the way of the warrior. And essential for the warrior is courage — without it, he has lost his way, and his skills become worthless in a violent encounter. Researcher and long-time jujutsuka John Coles takes a look at what courage really means to a soldier, a samurai and a modern-day martial artist seeking to develop the mindset needed for self-defence.

Recent Australian Victoria Cross recipients CPL Mark Donaldson (left) and CPL Ben Roberts-Smith of the SAS, with Keith Payne VC

“Fighting in war creates an environment where fear is prevalent, and unless courage prevails, all is lost.” So wrote General Sir Peter de la Billiere in the preface to the 2007 edition of The Anatomy of Courage by World War 1 veteran Lord Charles Moran (first published in 1945). He added that, consequently, “the most important personal requirement for those who go to war is to understand the enigma of courage and its critical importance in overcoming fear”.

Fair enough. But what is courage, exactly? It is often defined in terms of acting despite fear. As Mark Twain explained, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” The late anti-apartheid warrior Nelson Mandela was of the same thinking: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” he said.

The notion that courage is acting in spite of fear means that without fear, there can be no courage. As legendary American WWI fighter pilot Edward Vernon Rickenbacker put it, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

A more contemporary expression of this relationship between fear and courage can be found in the book Game of Thrones: ‘Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” “That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.’

Not only can there be no courage without fear, but as General de la Billiere reasoned, “without fear there is no need for courage” (emphasis added).

De la Billiere described courage as being “an individual’s exercise of mind over fear through self-discipline”. And Lord Moran put that idea even more succinctly: “Courage is willpower.”

Willpower means to deliberately exert control in order to do something or to restrain our own impulses — so, in some circumstances, then, willpower can certainly take the form of courage. If courage means using our minds to resist the instinctive impulses generated by fear and instead take different actions — like running toward an attacking enemy, as a soldier is expected to do, rather than away from them — it is, indeed, willpower at work. This attribute is reflected in Aristotle’s explanation of courage, which he said requires “deliberate choice and purpose”.

So, the generally accepted notion of courage, it seems, is that it requires us to first feel fear, then to exercise our willpower/deliberate choice in order to act in spite of that fear. Or, put simply…

This story is titled ‘The Enigma of Courage’, and ‘enigma’ means a thing that is mysterious and difficult to understand — yet there doesn’t seem to be anything too mysterious or difficult to understand about courage based on the above definition. But having said that, there are a couple of anomalies associated with this simple view of what defines courage.

Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith was awarded Australia’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross (VC), “for the most conspicuous gallantry [courage] in action in circumstances of extreme peril”. Was Roberts-Smith courageous when he performed his perilous act? We can only answer that question if we know whether or not Roberts-Smith was scared at the time. If he was scared at the time of his perilous act then the next question becomes, how scared was he? Does mildly nervous while performing a perilous act qualify as being courageous, or does it need to be approaching terrified to qualify?

When discussing fearlessness, William Ian Miller (The Mystery of Courage, 2002) suggests that “it is striking how many of those uses of the word ‘fearless’ do not pretend to describe the inner state of the actor. They are meant rather to register the awe of the observer”.

The same may be said of the use of the word ‘courage.’ Was Roberts-Smith awarded the VC for his courage, acting in spite of fear, or because of our awe of his actions with no regard to his inner state? (Reflect on that question the next time you watch an AFL match on TV where the commentator describes a player’s action as ‘courageous’.)

Can courage be taught? De la Billiere and many others believe that courage can be taught through ‘realistic training’, which refers to training that increasingly approximates the operational environment. It is the third stage in stress training (sometimes called ‘stress inoculation’ or ‘stress exposure’ training), which is increasingly being used by the military and law enforcement to better prepare their personnel for operational deployment.

This type of training is designed to reduce anxiety/fear and uncertainty regarding the environment, and enhance the trainee’s sense of individual control, thus increasing their confidence to perform in that setting. Realistic training is not so much about training courage as it is about reducing fear — which, paradoxically, reduces the need for courage.

One of the training methods used by the military to counter the effects of stress (fear) is ‘overlearning’. Overlearning leads to automaticity, which enables the soldier to perform required tasks with limited attention. In an interview that Roberts-Smith gave to The Australian after receiving his VC, he explained how “in the middle of intense fighting there wasn’t time to think and a soldier’s training kicked in”.

Was Roberts-Smith describing trained automaticity that enabled him and others to overcome their fear without the use of willpower or deliberate choice, and if so, could that disqualify the performed perilous act from being classified as courageous?

Perhaps. Even so, it could be argued that courage, in his and every soldier’s case, was required to get him to the battlefield in the first place — when making a series of deliberate choices to join the military, complete the training, board the Hercules for the assigned tour of duty, leave the base to patrol in enemy territory, etc. — all while cognitive of the dangers that would be faced and continuing despite experiencing degrees of trepidation and fear throughout.

Plato explored the enigma of courage nearly 2500 years ago in Laches. In it he provided a military-centric explanation of courage as being a soldier standing his post and defending himself rather than running away. This gets to the very heart of the matter when it comes to a military perspective on courage: a practical perspective — fight rather than flight.

Many people talk about the fight-or-flight concept to explain our natural responses to a threat. They explain that fear motivates instinctive fight or flight behaviours, which the body enacts via an automatic physiological response — however, this is an overly simplistic and flawed understanding of the concept [see John Coles’ article ‘Fight or Flight: Have we got it all wrong?’ in Blitz Vol. 27 No. 10].

Walter Cannon developed the fight-or-flight concept in the early 1900s to describe our inherited survival mechanisms. But he proposed that these two instinctive behaviours were not motivated by the same emotion: he associated flight with fear but fight with anger.

This small but important detail is often overlooked or not understood by those referring to fight-or-flight to describe our natural responses to a threat. It is important because if our instinctive fight behaviour was associated with fear, then there would be no need to summon courage to overcome fear in order to fight.

Nature’s strategy in the face of a perceived threat is to turn fear into anger in order to change flight into fight. That strategy has been used by man since time immemorial in order to achieve the same objective. For instance, Sun Tzu stated in The Art of War that “killing the enemy is a matter of arousing anger in men”.

In their article ‘Countering Fear in War: The Strategic Use of Emotion’ (Journal of Military Ethics, 2006), Roger Petersen and Evangelos Liaris include the creation of anger as one of several strategies to counter fear in war. Even the US Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual FMFRP 12-15 (1990) directly links turning fear into anger with courage: “In major warfare, hatred of an enemy is developed among troops to arouse courage.”

Turning fear into anger in order to promote fight behaviour does not equal courage if using the generally accepted understanding of it — but it is if using Plato’s ‘fight not flight’ definition.

As well as the strategy of arousing anger in order to counter fear in a war, Petersen and Liaris talk about changing terror back into courage through rational discourse (basically distraction), the threat of shame (i.e. dishonour), the creation of spite, and instilling hope. These strategies either replace fear or overcome it in order to turn flight into fight. Is the use of these strategies courage? Again, not according to the generally accepted understanding of courage, but it is according to Plato’s ‘fight not flight’ definition.

Were the Japanese samurai courageous? The Japanese martial arts teach the concept of  mushin no shin, or ‘mind of no mind’, which refers to a state of mind free from thoughts, anger, fear or any emotions. If courage is acting in spite of fear, then the Japanese samurai were not courageous. If courage is the use of willpower to overcome fear, the Japanese samurai were not courageous.

However, if courage is defined in terms of fight not flight, no matter what means are used to achieve it, as per Plato, then the Japanese samurai were courageous.

Is the most important personal requirement for those who go to war — and for those who prepare them to go to war — to unravel the enigma of courage and understand its critical importance in overcoming fear? Or is it more important for both parties to understand fear itself, and the ways and means that have been used since time immemorial to turn flight into fight?

From a practical perspective, in terms of getting us ready to fight, there is no enigma or mystery of courage — there is only the distraction of courage. And then there are the practical mental tools that can help us turn flight into fight when necessary.

Read more on self-defence here.

Source: Blitz Magazine

Close quarters with Paul Cale

A Good Kill.

The power of the mind — and the effect our training has on its development —
may only become clear when tested under extreme circumstances. 

Extreme situations are ultimately a test of mindset.

Late one night I walk into a room of a building where I worked at in the mid-’90s to be confronted by a stranger, a man who had arrived before me only moments earlier. He was clearly intoxicated and had anger in his eyes. He reached to his waistline with his right hand and pulled out what was a hidden weapon, a knife that had been modified and shaped to allow for easy concealment.

We stood looking at each other over a distance of no more than one-and-a-half metres. He held the knife low by his side and just stared at me, saying nothing, preferring the situation to speak for itself — and in hindsight, the situation was not ideal for me in any way.

I was working in a small country town sober-up centre as part of an Indigenous program in conjunction with the Victoria Police. I had many friends within the police force, as my wife at the time was a senior constable, and I also had many good Aboriginal friends who were training with me in BJJ and knockdown karate.

I had been involved in several programs prior to the sober-up centre, mostly to do with education of young people, and I used martial arts as a tool to help me connect with youth with great success. From the positive outcomes of the first project I was involved with, I was asked to be involved with more things over time and I was happy to help, as the local Aboriginal community and I built friendships that are still strong to this day.

I was on call when the phone rang late in the night and I made the short drive to the sober-up centre. The police had already arrived and had a man with them, who I didn’t know by name but had seen once or twice during my time living in town. One constable escorted the man to the sign-in room while his partner relayed to me the background behind the pick-up from the street. As far as the police were concerned, all seemed to go smoothly with getting the man off the street and to the centre, so they departed and I went into the sign-in room.

Now, as I faced the man and his knife alone in the centre, I assumed that may have been the reason why the weapon had been missed during the earlier body search.

At that stage of my life I had been in the army for close to 10 years, but had transferred to the Army Reserve some years prior. I had a Blue-belt in BJJ and Black-belts in karate, taekwondo and aikido — less than half of the martial arts experience and qualifications I hold now, and even less when it comes to the military.

I had not, at that stage, re-enlisted back into the regular army and I had not been to war or had any combat experience whatsoever. But the crises in life do not tend to wait for us to be ready to experience them, so there I was, ready or not. But as it all played out in front of me, I did feel ready; I felt the confidence that I feel to this day.

We stared at each other for what seemed like a long time, but would have only been a few seconds at most. In that moment, no thoughts went through my head; I felt no fear (as foolish as it may seem in hindsight), just an overwhelming sense that I was going to have to kill this man. With that realisation, my mind began racing through the reasons for what I was about to do, to ensure that it would be a ‘good kill’ — a term used in war to confirm that a killing was justified and legal.

I have no idea of what my would-be attacker saw in my eyes that night, but can only assume that he was looking for fear and didn’t get what he needed. His confidence was not given the fuel it required for him to continue. Without either of us moving or saying a word, he dropped the knife and began to sob. As he apologised over and over again, I snapped right back into social worker mode and said, “No problem, mate, let’s get you cleaned up and into a bed for the night.”

I learned something about the power of mindset that night.

Read more expert opinions here.

Source: Blitz Magazine

Black Belt Attitude

Black Belt Attitude

What is it and is it important in today’s society?

As students were preparing for their black belt testing this past Saturday, it allowed me the time to think back along my journey and rediscover why I do what I do today. I started training in the Martial Arts when I was 16 years of age. I thought I could be the next Bruce Lee, wow was I wrong there. I studied a Martial Art called Tracey’s Kenpo. I did this for a couple of years up until the time I was to graduate from high school. After high school I joined the Air Force and did not think about the Martial Arts for a few years as life blissfully continued. I came back to Cleveland and in 1981 I started training again. I have continually trained and taught since receiving my first black belt in 1984. I also emptied my cup and started over four times in my career, three times in Hapkido and once in Taekwondo. I trained in three different styles of Hapkido in two different schools and at one point in my training I decided I had to train with an Asian Instructor so I studied Taekwondo.

I have added the above so you understand a little of my journey and that I have seen a lot in my Martial Arts career. I have had great instructors that I would take a bullet for still today, I have had good instructors that were horrible people and I have had bad instructors that only cared about what they received from training people. I have learned something from each of the instructors I have trained under, some of what to do and others of what not to do. The one thing I have learned over all is Martial Arts is something you become not something you do.

So what is “Black Belt Attitude”?

I would like to challenge the Martial Artist’s to post feedback on this topic. I would like to know your thoughts. Is it real, or is it passé? Does it still mean something, or is it so esoteric that it cannot be measured? I would like to know what the Martial Arts community thinks. Below is my opinion only. It is why I am asking you all for your feedback. I may be living in the dark ages of what Martial Arts used to be and need to pull my head out of the sand. I am looking to this community to tell me the truth as they see it.

Students come into your school for many different reasons and those reasons are different between Children and Adults. Children come because their parents bring them and because somewhere along the way they think punching and kicking are cool and they want to be like the TMNT’s or like someone on one of the cartoons they watch. Many parents bring their children to Martial Arts classes because they have either trained in the past and know what it has done for them or have a child with challenges that a doctor or others have told them that Martials Arts can help with. Many parents bring their children in because they are being bullied and have heard that we can help build confidence and protection skills. Adults come for their own reasons and they are just as wide a ranged. I have had students come in because they want to learn how to fight so that the next time they are at the bar they are ready. I have had adults join because they want to have an activity they can get involved in or in many cases they join so they can train with their children. Whatever the reason they come into the school they stay or leave based on what they learn. I have had both children and adults leave because they realize this is work and they will not be given anything without work involved. They cannot walk in and get their black belt in a month. I have had adults leave because they found out we don’t teach people how to hurt others, we teach them how not to fight unless it is absolutely necessary.

We all know the statistics, 1 in 10 students make it to Black Belt, 1 in 10 of those makes it to second degree and beyond. Why is this? Why shouldn’t all students who start make it to black belt? They have paid their money, why shouldn’t they get a black belt? While there are many reasons students quit training there are only a few reasons that would disqualify a student to test for their black belt. One of the reasons students are not allowed to test is physical in nature. The other is mental. Mental is where I believe “Black Belt Attitude” comes in.

First and foremost I want to state that Black Belt Attitude does NOT start at black belt. It should start much earlier in a student’s training. It should be shown to students from the moment they walk into your school and should be exemplified by the students, teachers and instructors present. In my estimation Students normally start to understand black belt expectations and the meaning of “Black Belt Attitude” by Green Belt or after training for about a year in your school. Some get it much earlier and others never get it. It does not mean the student is kicked out of the school it should mean that more time is spent trying to get this student to understand what is expected and how to meet those expectations before testing for Black Belt. If they still do not get it by the time they should be ready to test for black belt, then it is up to each individual instructor to make a determination on the outcome. I believe without the proper attitude towards what black belt is, a student is just going through the motions and is looking for the end goal instead of being part of the journey.

Black Belt Attitude starts and ends with Respect. Respect for self, Respect for others, Respect for Instructors and black belts, and Respect for your school.

Let’s break this down further:

  • Respect for self – This means that a student that has a Black Belt Attitude comes to class on time and ready to participate every class. They have a clean uniform with the correct belt and are present during the entire class. They strive to do their best (not some idea of what best is) and they give 100% during each and every class period. They take their training seriously and perseveres when training get tough.
  • Respect for others – Respect for others goes well beyond the training hall. Those who respect others use words like thank you and you’re welcome. They call people Ma’am and Sir and mean it when they say it. They try to help others when possible and they listen when others are trying to pass along knowledge. One of the oaths state “help to build a more peaceful world”. This is done through a respect of others. Treating all people as you want to be treated. This goes for both adult and children. Children must learn to respect those above them and in authority.
  • Respect for Instructors and Black Belts – This is also not just what is expected in the training environment. We all have teachers, mentors and people we learn from. In Martial Arts we are taught to respect the belt. I have always believed in this and have gone as far as to bow to someone who wanted to kill me because I was bowing to the belt not the person. This being said if you do not or cannot show respect to your Instructor or to the Black Belts around you then wherever you are training is not the right place for you. Instructors have spent many years perfecting their craft and then passing it along to their students. If are a part of a school and are being taught you are expected to show respect for that training. We show respect inside the DoJang so that we get in the habit showing respect to those outside the DoJang. Respect comes in many ways within the DoJang from bowing upon entering, to using terms like “Yes Ma’am or Yes Sir”, to doing what is asked of you. This is not to bolster the Instructor’s ego or to show students in a subservient way. It is because in all walks of life we should be thanking those and respecting those who bring things into our lives. Respect is also a two way street. Instructors and Black Belts should show respect to their students. They should call them by name or using terms such as Ma’am and Sir. Within the DoJang respect is always given to the belt. It does not matter if you like the person wearing it or not. Respect for the belt is to be given.
  • Respect for the School – Respecting your school comes in many fashions. Getting involved in helping the school is one way to show respect, another may be to tell others about and to help recruit students into the school. You should never do anything that sets the school in a bad light. Fighting outside of the school is dis-respecting the school. Taking what you have learned from your school and going out to teach other without your instructor’s permission is dis-respecting the school. Teaching of any kind without your instructor’s permission is dis-respecting the school. The school is not just a place where people go to learn stuff. It is a place of solace, a place of camaraderie, a place of learning, and a place to pass on information from generation to generation to help the society of tomorrow grow and prosper. The school is a living, breathing entity. It doesn’t matter if classes are held in a park, or church basement, or a huge building, the school is a living organization that can either be bolstered or destroyed by the respect students and non-students show it.

I could write a lot more about respect, and I want to hear more from all of you on your thoughts when it comes to “Black Belt Attitude” and respect.

Another piece of “Black Belt Attitude” is trust. Although trust and respect go hand in hand, I believe one without the other will not allow success. If we break Martial Arts down to its root form we have Martial, meaning warrior, battle, fighting, etc. and Arts meaning, tradition, creativity, learning, helping, etc. I believe our ultimate responsibility is to train people, give them confidence and show them a path towards personal growth and personal protection. All sports may teach confidence, teamwork, body mechanics and more, although the one thing missing in sports training is the ability to know if push comes to shove you have the skills to protect yourself. This does not mean I know how to fight. There are many levels to protection and the first is awareness. I write all this to say that training in the Martial Arts has inherent risks which go along with training. If you do not trust that your Instructor and school have your best interest at heart and is willing to sacrifice your safety then you need to re-evaluate trust issues as by the time you test for black belt, you have been there long enough to build trust with your Instructor and black belts. While people can get hurt during Martial Arts practice over my years of teaching I have seen many more injuries from sports, walking down the street and just plan living then I have ever seen in any of the schools I have been a part of. Do we push people, yes, do we uselessly put them in danger, No, and are there bumps, bruises and pain, yes, jammed and broken fingers, yes. The difference is we are training people to be able to react when a situation takes place. Preparing for a Black Belt test at our school can be intense. This includes putting people in uncomfortable situations and teaching them how to overcome what the mind and body are telling them what they are capable of and continuing when everything else is telling you to quit. Trust is huge in this area. Students must trust that the instructors and the black belts understand what they are doing and have the student’s best interest at heart. Again if the student does not have trust in this then it is time to leave. We have been training and testing students the same way for almost 30 years. I would consider our black belt test to be one of the most demanding tests out there. The entire test culminates in 2 on 1 sparring and if the students cannot go through the wall and keep fighting they will have to test again. Is this fair? You tell me. If you are ever put into a life or death situation and you have to fight your way out I believe it is important to know that you are capable of doing what it takes. To be able to fight beyond what the mind and the body are telling you.

I believe Black Belt Attitude is real and can be measured. It can be measured every day. It can be measured in how students act within the DoJang and outside of the DoJang. It can be measured in how they act among their peers and those both above and below them. It can be measured in how they speak to those above and below them. It can be measured in how, when, and with whom they train with. It is about how you treat others, yourself, your Instructors/teachers, and your school. Attitude and character come out most when no-one is looking and when people are put in difficult and scary situations. It is easy to pick out those students who are ready for the next step. It is more difficult when a student has put in their time and does not understand the why behind it.

Black belt is not a set of checkboxes to be checked off. It is not a set of requirement or a kick or a technique. Black belt is not a thesis, a test or a board break. Black belt is a mindset, a mindset of respect, trust and of CANI (constant and never-ending improvement). It is something you become not something you do. If you understand what is written here and are willing to live up to it then train hard, learn well and I look forward to seeing you with a black belt around your middle.

So now it is your turn. What is “Black Belt Attitude” and does it still exist today? I am looking for honest feedback. If you disagree with me I want to know. If you want to add more to it I am listening. If you think it is passé and as long as students complete the required steps they are entitled to their black belt, I want to know that. No answer is necessarily right or wrong, although this is my truth and what I believe and what I have believed since I started training those many, many years ago. I look forward to a lively debate and I hope as a community we can come together and respectfully agree and dis-agree.

Parents, spouses, friends and family of this community I welcome and want to know your thoughts. You are a part of this community; you are affected by what that training person does. Let me know how you feel about the training and the expectations place on the person in your sphere of influence as they train.

Thank you for reading and I hope at the least this get you thinking about what you are doing and feeling today.