The Black Belt Myth

Professor Ashanti Black Belt Martial Arts Phoenix Arizona

What is the myth of the black belt?

 

The myth of the black belt itself: There’s a story that we’ve all been told in the belt-wearing arts that goes something like this: Traditionally, a student was just given a white belt and there was no other rank. Through hard work and dedication, the belt would eventually turn black. This is the origin of the black belt.  Wrong.

First of all, white cloth would never turn black on its own. The best you would get is a grungy grey. Second, it’s a known fact in history that the founder of Judo, Professor Kano, was the first to use and implement the belt system. The original three belts were white, brown, and black. During tournament play, players were designated as either white or red.

Where did this all come from then? Professor Kano was a physical education teacher and Jujitsu teacher.. His art of Judo became wildly popular as a fitness exercise for a changing taste of the Japanese public. It is most likely that Professor Kano borrowed his belt theme from college swim teams.

There were three ranks of swimmers: white (beginner), brown (intermediate), and black (advanced). In addition, when teams competed they would be split into the red team and the white team.  This is still the basic standard of Judo ranking and competitions. There have just been more belts added over time.

Is the black belt important?

Belt rank and title is arguably the most artificial marker of progress in the martial arts. We all take too much stock in rank, as it has become a part of our cultural lexicon of ideology. Transcendence of rank and title can possibly be the only savior from the trappings of them.

The difference between a master and a white belt is about 15 centimeters of refinement. In joint locking and general jujitsu, the difference between a technique working and not working is five centimeters or less.

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How to Approach a Healthy Lifestyle and Self-Care

Guest Blog by Sheila Olson
fitsheila.com | info@fitsheila.com

The Secret about Exercise

Here’s a secret the “No Pain, No Gain” crowd doesn’t want you to know: exercise is supposed to be fun and feel good. I know, I know… for most of us the idea of being swaddled in spandex while spending a half-hour running on a path to nowhere is anything but fun and feel good. At the heart of it all, exercise is supposed to be something we do to celebrate our bodies and spend time with friends.

Exercise is good for you and if you are not getting enough physical activity it can mean serious implications for both your physical and mental health. Working out can help with some of our society’s most pressing problems including major depression and heart disease. It’s important to commit to some sort of exercise in your life for your well-being. To do that, you don’t have to become a gym junkie or get sucked into a toxic fitness culture. By mixing fitness with self-care exercises, the combination will help diminish any negative feelings about yourself. You can approach an overall healthier lifestyle that contributes to your happiness.

Measure Your Progress in Other Ways

Having a scale handy is a great if weight loss is your goal. But for a lot of people, seeing their body weight fluctuate up and down can do more damage than good. We tend to put too much importance on that number. Your body weight is not necessarily an indicator of fitness, progress, or your overall health — in fact, it’s natural for it to fluctuate up to 10 pounds in either direction. Yet that doesn’t stop some people from obsessing over a number.

People that struggle with scales often engage into destructive behaviors:

● Weighing oneself constantly, often as much as multiple times a day.
● Obsessing over how to lose pounds to reach a weight goal.
● Over or under-eating when a weight goal isn’t met.
● Abusing laxatives or diuretics to “shed pounds.”
● Criticizing “problem areas” in the mirror after a bad weigh-in.

If you find that stepping on the scale leads to behaviors like those above, it may be healthier to ditch the home scale and find other ways to track your fitness progress.

Find Workouts You Enjoy

The best exercise for you is the one you enjoy enough to do consistently. However you work out, make it enjoyable and you’ll be on the right path to a healthier lifestyle. You may enjoy yoga, hiking, swimming or dance lessons, but you will never really know until you try them! Thankfully, most fitness classes and boutiques offer a free first lesson to new people that are interested in joining. Try out as many as you can and take it all into account. It’s not just about liking the exercise itself; you also want to find a place where you enjoy being around the people because you feel supported and accepted in the classes.

Look around your area for things that pique your interest, but also take feasibility into account. Generally, we are all pretty busy people. Finding ways to work out without disrupting your schedule too much is another great way to ensure you stick to it. When exercise isn’t a chore or an inhibitor, you will want to keep going because you enjoy it. Having fun while taking care of yourself is pretty much the best self-care there is.

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People who don’t like exercise have a point. Reap all the benefits of exercise by dropping those expectations and unhealthy attitudes and instead embrace exercise as a way to celebrate your body and support your health.

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How to Not Practice Technique Badly

How to Not Practice Technique Badly - Full Circle Warrior Arts | Full Circle Jujitsu

There is something to be said for blocking hundreds of punches, taking hundreds of falls, and evading hundreds of weapon swings every night in a class. Successful technique grows out of balance, timing, and awareness, which grows out of relaxation. If one lives in a tense state, one’s energy will constantly be tied up in tension. Balance, timing, and awareness are vastly improved when one can interact fluidly with one’s environment, unencumbered by tension.

That being said, you are not training precise self defense when you are practicing against a predetermined attack. Detractors of self defense training misunderstand this fact. In fact, many self defense styles don’t understand the method’s purpose either. What you are training for is attributes; attributes that are not feasible or too dangerous to practice against a live classmate. You are conditioning your body to be able to react in the moment when presented with a similar position. Should your body be conditioned to block an oncoming punch, it will react accordingly when presented with one. This assumes “good” training on the practitioner’s part. Phoning in attacks and defenses leads to ineffective technique just the same. Predetermined defenses have to have commitment from both attacker and defender to develop these attributes.

Committed attacks are necessary for developing correct technique. However committed doesn’t mean “all out” or out of control. Rather it means sincere and focused. Many times I’ll have beginners or visiting students punch at me, they will most times either be out of proper distance or they will punch where my head isn’t. To make a point I won’t move. The committed attack is aimed directly towards its target. It should require the receiver of the technique a strong need to react.  

Drilling martial arts, whether it be stance, footwork, or technique, and not understanding context, is the same as trying build a house with just hammers alone; just the tools but no foundation or nails and mortar to keep it together.  

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Are You Hypocritical?

Professor Alessandro Ashanti Teaching in 1993

One thing that always haunts me is that the longer your train, the more your view might become hypocritical to an earlier version of yourself. This is much like comparing your current ideology to your own as a teenager or young adult. However, you will be the product of your commitment just the same. You might have thought you had it all figured out only to look back on yourself shaking your head.  This is all natural as humans learn best from hindsight.  It’s not hypocritical because you have merely experienced growth and understanding.  So in the end the best solution is always to train often. 

You have to be satisfied with the results from the level of commitment you’ve put forth with your training. Delusion can exist on either side of this fence. Delusion sets in easy for the civilian martial artist due to the fact that, unlike the warrior, there is no constant feedback for your tactics, strategies, and abilities in actual war.  Ego also hits all of us in the martial arts sooner or later. Sometimes it drives us early on; sometimes intermittently, sometimes consistently. It takes concerted desire to push past its threshold, whether it be high or low.

The most dangerous place to exist in the martial arts is to have one foot in and one out. Train or don’t train. Anything in the middle can have disastrous consequences. You have to figuratively and metaphysically digest your style, lest your practice falls into little more than exercises of pantomime repeated for years worth of time.  Your goals in the martial arts will not line up with everyone else’s goals. You will find others with similar ideologies, but not everyone trains for the same reasons. There is room for all of us in civilian life, from the athlete to the holistic-minded, the fighter, to the self defense practitioner. Some people just appreciate their teacher, and that’s why they keep coming back. Sometimes it’s a combination of many things. Sometimes the reasons change. What drives us to train is a very diverse field of inspiration.

 

 

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“That Won’t Work in the Street” A Primer on Joint Locking

Kote Gaishi or Wrist Turn | Full Circle Jujitsu | Full Circle Warrior Arts

How many marital art instructors does it take to screw in a light bulb?  One to screw it in and 99 to say it wouldn’t work on the street/ring/cage etc. There’s not a student in the world that shouldn’t heed this advice: Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

I’ve heard it a lot over my years as a student and an instructor: “That doesn’t work.” Whether it’s in regards to a general style or a particular technique, it doesn’t “work.” Most martial artists tend not to believe in technique that their art doesn’t train in. The “that won’t work” factor is a reflex for most.

What if a particular technique doesn’t “work”? My first sensei, Master Zulu always said, “Nothing is guaranteed.” All techniques and training have a point at which they can fail. However, just because one technique has failed, it doesn’t mean your whole arsenal should fall by the wayside. Utilize the practice of flow, and move on. A failed exchange opens up opportunities for new ones. Should I try to apply a basic kote-gashi (wrist turn) and my opponent pulls his hand free, their retreating energy has now given me entrance for a Capoeira Angola vingativa (a sweep that takes a person over your thigh with the aid of an arm or head butt).  

Joint locking itself is a very misunderstood and misapplied art form. No two bodies are the same, hence not all joints are made the same. Many styles attempt to incorporate joint manipulations into their styles, but without proper context or training method, students never develop these skills past a beginning level. Joint lock study should be a daily practice, not just something reserved for when the instructor wishes to add some flavor to the class.

Is your joint lock not working? Relax your shoulders and move from your center. Take the muscle tension out of your limbs. This is the key to all technique. Remove your affectations.  Listen to the feedback your partner’s body is giving you. Some are more flexible than others. If you “listen,” you will know the correct pressure to apply to each type of individual. This takes diligent practice to perfect.  Are you actually relaxed? When a beginner applies a joint lock they tend to hunch their shoulders or put so much tension in their hands that they are effectively working against themselves throughout the technique. Relax completely. This doesn’t mean go floppy; think of the relaxed motion of a horse in full gallop, and move your body unified with single purpose.

Have you eliminated joint slack? Many beginners go through the entire motion of a lock only to find their partner staring at them at the end. This is usually caused by a failure to take up the appropriate slack before entering the throwing phase. The amount (degree) of slack you want to take up is determined by the amount of damage you wish to cause your opponent. Obviously, we only take this so far when training in class.  I’ll go over the slack principle in more detail later.

Are you aware of your surroundings, and most importantly, your partner? Many students grab a hand for a basic wristlock, for instance, and their mind immediately becomes completely focused on that hand. They lose sight that there is a whole independent body connected to the hand! In the dojo this can lead to accidents. In actual defense it can lead to disaster. Maintain a 360-degree awareness at all times.

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The First 20 Years of Your Training

Side Kick Professor Alessandro Ashanti 1994

There is a point in everyone’s martial arts career in which they have an epiphany that they don’t know as much as they thought they did. This is a natural process. The five-to-fifteen year student of the arts wears their training like a teenager wears adulthood. They are aware that people know more than they do, but they are pretty sure they’ve figured out a better way just the same.

The bubble burst of this line of thought can feel like one is suddenly in a possession of limited skill. However the truth is that they’ve now reached another level in their practice; there is a clearing of pretence that allows and facilitates further lessons. Those who don’t go through this find themselves repeating the first five to fifteen years of their training over and over again, never advancing to a higher plane of understanding. The cycle, like all cycles, should come full circle and eventually repeat itself, once again clearing the path for the martial artist’s future.

The amount of work to gain relevant insight into the martial arts, I would dare say, takes more effort than becoming a neurosurgeon (not that I can accurately speak to the process of becoming a neurosurgeon.  Bear with the analogy on its own terms.). The neurosurgeon, just like the martial artist, can arrive at a point of great competency, but is in reality just repeating and reiterating their schooling. To own your training takes far more work. I find the ten-to-fifteen year student thinks they’ve arrived at this point consistently. I was no different and no more or less wrong.

In the martial arts you spend most of your first fifteen to twenty years unable to see where you are in your practice. You’ve developed some skills, but you are never in a position to truly see what your next level is. This can lead a practitioner to think their skills and understanding are finely honed. If this person keeps training they will eventually find a whole new level opens up. Their previous skills will apply going forward, but their mind will forever see how much more there will always be to learn.

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How to Open a Martial Arts School Part 2

How to open your own martial arts school part 2

This part two of my blog on how to open your own martial arts school.  For part one please visit here: How to Open a Martial Arts School Part 1

Trends

The latest fashionable trend in the martial arts is the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) school.  The Brazilian’s (Brazilian Jiujitsu) are also en vogue to an extent although they more owned the 90’s to 2000’s (a very good run).  Trends come and go in the martial arts as with anything in life.  Chasing trends is historically a recipe for disaster.  In the 50’s you were packed if you had a Judo school.  In the 60’s all you had to do was put up a sign saying “karate lessons” and you were guaranteed classes of 30 or more.  In the 70s kung fu was king as a direct result of what people thought they saw in Bruce Lee movies.  In the 80s ninjutsu was the ultimate in combat.  Legitimate (or not) instructors could receive thousands of dollars plus expenses for a single seminar!  In the 80’s everyone was a ninjutsu master just as now every school claims to teach MMA.  In all fairness the term Mixed Martial Arts leaves itself to broad interpretation as that can mean literally any two arts combined.  Although we all know what one is actually looking for in an MMA school.  A cautionary tale on trend chasing comes from another business that deals in physicality: the gym franchise.  Gyms chase every trend there is and are always looking for what is new to offer.  Here is the rub.  Every single gym franchise has historically failed.  Remember Jack LaLane or Ballys?  Gone.  Every one of them is destined for the same end statistically.  Modeling ourselves after gyms is a recipe for disaster.  We are so much more than that and have far more to offer.

YMCA/YWCA/YJCA/JCC and Cultural Centers

Religious and Cultural based community centers are also a great place to start a class.  These organizations typically hire instructors as a contracted employee.  They tend to have multiple rooms to offer for classes; so, desirable time slots are often available.  Being a contracted employee means that you get paid the same if you have 5 or 50 students.  However your class still needs to be profitable for them to continue to offer it.  One note of caution to keep in mind is that should there be a political or ideological shift in such organizations they might decide your class doesn’t fall in line with their paradigm.  This happened to me once despite having a full class of students.

Pros: Same as community centers except you are typically hired as a contracted employee.

Cons: Same as community centers except that you can also be cancelled due to a change in direction of the center.

Garage

A garage school has actually been my favorite place to teach. You own it!  Or at least you legally live there and/or are renting it.  You are free to customize the space any way you choose.  You can set your own schedule and not have to worry about packing your space with students.  All profits go directly to you.  The downside to using a garage is typically a limitation in space should you desire a huge class.  Also, you might have to give up your car having a place to park indoors, especially if you place down mats.  This can be very inconvenient in areas that get way too hot or way too cold.  Climate control is also a related issue in an un-insulated garage.  Most are open to the weather blowing through the cracks of the garage door and sometimes even the walls themselves.  There is also the double edge sword of the fact that you are now working at home.  This is great for those who love the convenience of walking down the hall to meet students, however it is not so great for those who like privacy and might not want others to know where they live.

Pros: You work from home and can set your own schedule.  You can customize your space any way you see fit.

Cons: You work from home and lose privacy of your address.  Weather conditions.  Potential space limitations.

Brick and mortar

If you are interested in losing your life savings and credit, sign a lease for a storefront with no prior business experience other than being a martial arts teacher.  To be successful with a brick and mortar storefront school you have to have some level of business savvy.  You have to treat you business like a business first and a martial arts school second.  I’ve always said that I will never buy mats at retail price when all I have to do is look on craigslist to find them for pennies on the dollar from someone who opened their dream school and closed 3-6 months later.  Take business and sales classes before if going this route and business is unforgiving and making a living salary teaching martial arts is a hard road, especially if you have a family to feed.  The rewards are great if you pull it off but you have to do your homework.  It also helps to have a loyal following that will support your new effort.

Pros: If you are successful you will have the ability to run the school you always wanted to have.  You are in control and the potential for earning is the most out of other options.

Cons:  The biggest risk of all the choices.  You can lose everything overnight.  The seduction of owning this type of school can lead to bad financial choices.  You have to know how to run a business first.

This list just about covers it all.  If there is anything I’m missing please feel free to leave a comment.

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How to Open Up a Martial Arts School Part 1

Full Circle Lineage Martial Arts Phoenix Arizona - - Opening a School

You’ve been training long enough in a martial arts style and have always had in the back of your mind that maybe one day you would open your own school and run a successful business.  You are passionate about teaching and training and as a result you are convinced the public will see this in you and flock to your school.  After all, you’re a better instructor than Master XYZ, who has a lousy reputation.

People throw around the term “McDojo” way too easily these days.  They view this as a school that is watered down and pandering to the public.  While this can be partially correct, but not always, there are certain things to keep note of.  These are successful business owners.  McDonalds (where the term McDojo originates from) is THE most successful restaurant in the world.  They have two things going that they do correctly.  Their food is tasty (never mind void of sustenance) and they have incredible marketing/advertising campaigns.  The food doesn’t have to be 5 star quality for people to want to buy it.  They just have to enjoy the experience of eating it.  They are also the first restaurant that comes to mind (for most people) when wanting fast food.  This is not by accident.  This is a model of consistency and innovation while keeping their identity.  McDonalds has never changed what it is at its core: a burger joint.

Martial arts schools that promote a clear message and deliver on their mission statement (every successful business has one of these) consistently will attract a parents that want their kids involved and adults that enjoy the experience.  Regardless of quality, all students are better having trained than not trained.  These students will never go to the school of blood, sweat, and tears.  The commercial school fills this niche.  Anyone can develop warrior skills but not everyone has what it takes to be a warrior.

There are many ways to open a school.  What type of school you want should be in correlation to the amount of risk you are willing to assume financially.  Everyone single martial arts instructor in the world has their “dream school” that they fantasize about.  Many might have had them for a time only to wind up in bankruptcy not too long afterwards.

The Park

This is the easiest place to get started with any martial arts class.  They are free to use and for the most part easy to find.

Pros:  Free!  Open space.  Built in marketing from onlookers and passer-bys.

Cons: Adherent to weather conditions. You are displaying your technique outside.  Limited growth potential in a United States market (typically you top out at 15 students).

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec programs are a great place to start a class when you have zero students.  All parks and rec departments have a listing of courses that they send out to all residents of the city they are located in (huge cities, not as much but still there is adverting).  A class that fills a niche can fill up quickly with students.  Kids programs are most successful in this type of venue.  Pay is modest but you have no worries on overhead or advertising.

Pros: No rent or advertising!  The city handles all you promotion and you start off with several to many students.  They city will also provide you with the proper equipment that is reasonable to the practice.

Cons: The city can cancel your class at anytime they choose.  You can’t start right away but rather have to wait until they next cycle of classes are available.  You are limited by what space is offered to you and the times you are given.

 

I’ll continue this post in a “Part 2” going over the other types of schools you can open with pros and cons.  Coming soon.

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A Man Named Zulu

Soke Chaka Zulu and Professor Alessandro Ashanti with as student.

My very first lesson in the martial arts came in the form of summer camp at the age of 10. The camp offered electives everyone could take, and there was a martial arts elective I signed up for which lasted 3 weeks. I have little recollection of how many days a week we met but I do remember being in the main large open field. The camp counselor was a Tae Kwon Do practitioner and purple belt (intermediate level). We had no uniforms and showed up in our regular clothes. He led us through a variety of kicks; even spinning and turning at times. From there the seed of fascination was planted.

I would pick up techniques over the next few years from friends I would meet along the way. I now call this “pick up martial arts.” Sometimes I would even find a class or two to take, but it took me several years to find a real teacher in the martial arts. My further desire to train was fueled by the Shaw Brother’s Kung Fu films with The Five Deadly Venoms being the first and most influential I ever saw. Interesting to that part of my story, it turns out that one of Master Zulu’s senior students (Now Soke (Head of Style) Bob Martin) was working at the local station that played the kung fu films. He was the person who got the films on the air.  This was my first experience in actually finding my way back to where I began, or in coming Full Circle. By the time I was in high school I was very hungry for marital arts training.

This was long before having the internet in your home. Back then all you could do was look through the Yellow Pages—younger folks can Google that term—and browse the ads. Schools that could afford to advertise were very expensive when you had zero income to spend, as I did. I would ask friends who trained about the schools they went to, but sure enough, it was always one of the overpriced schools I found in the yellow pages. One instructor in particular managed to teach half the martial artists in my high school. I lucked upon a junior high school friend named Jamal, who had an instructor that taught at a boys club just off of Chinatown. My brother and I walked down there one night to watch the class. The instructor was an imposing and impressive figure. He was a muscle-bound dark complexioned man in a tight fitting t-shirt who had the cadence and timber of a Marine sergeant. We sat down to watch class only to be told by the instructor that he wasn’t allowing spectators that night. We had no idea why but we were disillusioned. We never went back.

In my first year of high school, there was a kid in the school who was obsessed with anything ninja. He would even come to school dressed in ninja tabi shoes. Luck would have it that we would be put in a science class together. I asked him about his teacher and he invited me to a class in the park later that week. Thinking I was going to meet a ninja master, I was surprised to meet a man named Chaka Zulu. He was a man who I thought to be at least 6 feet tall by his presence, but he later turned out to be 5’6”. He was coffee complexioned like my mother and I later found out was just a year older than her. He introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Zulu.” My only word in response was, “Wow.” He invited me to train with them as they were having an informal workout. I was a bit intimidated but I eventually got up and began practicing some roundhouse kicks. Zulu was sparring one of the students and his motion transfixed me. He was a master of what I later learned was “flow”. I have seen many people speak of the concept but he is one of the few who truly embodied it, and to this day none have more so than him. I trained with Zulu and his system of Zujitsu for the next fifteen years of my life, after which we parted ways. Sensei taught me a conceptual framework that I use even now to absorb information and plug it into my personal matrix. Without him opening my mind to the limitless possibilities of development at such a young age, I never would have been able to be the martial artist I am today. I would simply have scattered knowledge of several systems that never found a place to integrate. He is no longer my master, but he will always be Sensei.

 

The preceding is a excerpt from Full Circle: Lessons Learned on the Martial Path written by Alessandro Ashanti.  Available on Amazon.com

http://bit.ly/FCBookAMZ

https://fullcirclejujitsu.com/store/

For more information on Soke Chaka Zulu and Zujitsu please visit http://zujitsu.com

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Are we True Warriors?

Are We Warriors?

In the nineties I taught under the banner of Warrior Arts. It was a great name that wasn’t in use at the time, at least not to my knowledge. I dropped the name after a conversation with my aikido teacher, who told me: We are not warriors. A warrior is a military person. Someone specially trained in warfare. These days the only ones that qualify for this bill are military personnel with actual battlefield experience, the elite of these being Special Forces.

This isn’t to say that our practice has no merit, but perhaps “civilian arts” would be a more appropriate title for what we do. We use our arts for expression, physique, sport, and self defense. As civilians, we don’t use our arts on any battlefield.  Despite dropping the name “Warrior Arts,” I’ve since reinstated the name as homage to our practice but not to be taken literally.  We are not warriors—save for those who have been in military combat—although we train in their ways. In doing so, we take on many of their attributes in order to be successful. When I train, I am fully prepared to die on the training floor. This is not an abandonment of safety; rather, it’s a commitment to the process that was laid down before us by the warriors of old. In fact, not being a battlefield warrior, the perfect death for me would be taking the best fall I’ve ever taken while in the dojo.


Warrior focus is a quality that can be learned through studying the warrior ways. It is not necessarily inherent to all students who train. Maintaining a mindset throughout your learning develops warrior focus. Focus and stay in the moment. Don’t let your outside life defeat you with your current training goals, and more specifically, the exercise at hand. Whether you are giving or receiving technique, your level of presence and intensity needs to remain consistent. They are two parts of the same whole. This is the beginning of how to find and practice warrior focus.  

 

The preceding is a excerpt from Full Circle: Lessons Learned on the Martial Path written by Alessandro Ashanti.  Available on Amazon.com

http://bit.ly/FCBookAMZ

 

https://fullcirclejujitsu.com/store/

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