How do you define “success”?

15 Apr

Seems I am getting a lot of interview requests lately. Among the things I’ve been asked about is my “success” in running a school. The questions prompted me to consider what is “success”? I think it’s a definition that varies based upon the person, it has to be personal.


For me, success isn’t just about money. I certainly have bills to pay and want to live a certain lifestyle, but I could also make more money by changing some of the things I do with my school. Some of the decisions I made and things I do with my school I do DESPITE their money aspect. That may sound weird to a lot of people, but to me success also has a lot to do with happiness. I do what I love and I love what I do. I am happy every single day I am on the mat and teaching. In fact, there have been some horrible days where I have lifted myself up by getting on the mat.


People define success in different terms. For some, it is passing on their tradition. I’ve never been particularly interested in that. I’ve had no need for “tradition.” Others define success in terms of the champions and fighters they’ve produced. I’m guilty of that one! Though over the years I am less and less interested in that. For me, it’s more that I proved what I do, and no longer have the need to prove it over and over again. I think my “success” is my achievement in helping my students achieve what they want to achieve. That can be getting their technique right, feeling better about themselves, getting in better shape, gaining confidence, etc.

So I’d say “success” has three elements to it; financial, achievement and happiness. Rate them in order as you please.


When it comes to practical matter of how to be successful running a martial arts school, again I think there are three elements. First, there is the class you teach. I think the industry identified this a long time ago and became obsessed with it, but I think they largely failed. The typical industry answer is to throw something new into your classes all the time, you “get your DVD in the mail monthly and learn the new stuff” approach. Personally, I find this concept not impractical, absurd and also dishonest. Do not teach something that you don’t really know. That’s just dishonest. But more importantly, you don’t inspire students with that crap! You inspire your students with the things that you dedicated your life to and mastered.


The other two keys to success in the martial arts industry are virtually ignored by the industry. I know, that sounds ridiculous. It is even more ridiculous when you learn that these two keys are responsible for the real success stories in martial arts! Those two other keys are marketing and customer service. I think I’ll leave those to another blog :)

Perspectives on the Role of Practical Fighting in Chinese Martial Arts, Part 3

11 Apr

“You Keep Using That Word,
I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

This is part of my continuing series of articles discussing the practical training and application of Chinese martial arts. While their intent is not to insult, they are indeed intended to make the reader reexamine what they practice and how they practice it.

In conversations involving martial artists all you have to do is bring up boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), wrestling or mixed martial arts and the inevitable response will always be “those are sports.” In most cases, when a martial artist uses the term “sport” it is in a pejorative connotation. Some explanations are just silly. Others have more thought out responses; that they have a referee, rules regarding what can and can not be done, “safe” venues, no weapons, etc. My initial response to all of these is usually the same, if you can’t stop a punch, kick or throw in a controlled, “safe” environment, what hope would you have in an uncontrolled fight of life-or-death?


However, there is a more complex response as well. I just never use the word “sport” and I simply don’t believe in it. Many years ago I had a similar attitude to what I perceived as “sport” but I was fortunate enough to train with a Judo instructor who introduced me to the terms Randori and Shiai. In the Chinese martial arts, there is sadly no similar construction in popular use. There is no corresponding theoretical construction.


If you attend a Judo contest, the proper Japanese term for such and event is Shiai (試合). Popular dictionaries will give you a variety of definitions for this term; a match, a game, a sport. However, a Judo historian might remind you that the founder of Judo, Dr. Jigoro Kano, often rendered the term as “死合” which could be translated as “mutual death.” In Kano’s mind, Shiai was the ultimate (reasonable) test of application; what could be done against a trained, resisting opponent in a live environment. It was a struggle, to be taken deadly serious, as if your life was on the line (because it might be).


Some with more of a striking inclination might question Kano’s format, but they’d have to remember the limitations on testing striking in an age before much of the safety equipment was developed. Additionally, you could also argue that Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is the ultimate (reasonable) test of striking, yet it is also referred to as “just a sport.”


Whether you use the term Shiai or “sport,” there is the reality that many martial arts students will never have an interested in any sort of organized competition. For this very reason, the coexisting pillar of Kano’s Judo, called Randori, might in fact be MORE IMPORTANT.


Randori (乱取り) is a term used to describe free-style practice. It certainly applies to what is commonly termed “sparring” but also encompasses all “live” drilling. Randori may be contrasted with forms/hand sets and other prearranged drilling, implying a freedom from structured practice. Among the possible translations/interpretations of Randori is “ordered chaos.” It is impossible (and unreasonable) to recreate the exact conditions of a life-and-death struggle in practice, but there are approachable forms to train skill.

Positive and negative reinforcements

7 Apr

I promised more than a week ago to continue with blog posts about running a program and building cycles of success. I was distracted by my wife’s recent hospitalization, but here I am back at it. This blog begins with a simple question, why do you not touch the hot stove?


As an adult, your first reaction may be simply to say “because it is hot!” But that is NOT the real answer. Think back to your childhood and you’ll remember your mother or some other figure telling you not to touch the hot stove… and you’ll remember doing it anyway (some of you may even have done it a few times). You burned yourself. It hurt. It was a negative experience and as human beings we learn from experiences, both positive and negative.


Once you have considered this concept, it becomes readily apparent that an accumulation of negative experiences results in people avoiding that experience. Unfortunately, for most people, practicing martial arts and engaging in exercise becomes an accumulation of NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES. And this is why most people leave your facility (any facility) and discontinue.


The average person enters your class unlikely to achieve all the demands of the class. They don’t know how to kick, they don’t know how to punch, and it’s highly likely they are not in the best of shape. Stop and really ponder how you address these problems in your class? I have a very simply rule, the “rule of add ONE” for example. Today you can only do 3 push ups? FINE! Next time you will ONLY ADD ONE MORE PUSH UP…. yes, next class I ONLY want to see you do four push ups!!!!!


Some of you will balk at what I just said! Some of you will think I am “taking it easy” on them! But let’s be serious for a minute. If they can only do three push ups today, do you think they will be able to do ten next class? If you set an unrealistic goal, they will FAIL. Failure is a negative experience. An accumulation of negative experiences and people will not want to continue the activity. It’s common sense, which is often not all that common.

Fighting Fitness professional (Martial arts)

In contrast, set a realistic goal and you will have SUCCESS. They WILL be able to do one more push up, one more squat and one more crunch in the next class. Success and achievement are POSITIVE EXPERIENCES. Accumulations of positive experiences make human being want to repeat the process. It isn’t really rocket science, it’s just common sense…


Most martial arts programs are designed to send prospective clients running in the opposite direction. They are accumulations of uncomfortable experiences and failures, with an instructor’s negative attitude contributing to the mix. Is it any wonder 90% (or more?) of people who join traditional martial arts programs leave? We not only fail to understand what customer service experience is, we have created its polar opposite! And we’re proud of it!

Female Patient and Front Desk Clerk Smiling

Do your clients love you? Do they love the program? Do they love showing up for class? Do you and your staff smile and greet them every time they walk in the door? Do you smile and wish them a good night at the end of every class as they leave? Does your instructional staff thank them for attending class? I’d take a guess that for some of you, the answer is not only “no” but that you haven’t even considered these things before!

The choice is yours; make your program and facility a collection of either positive or negative experiences. And realize that both have very real consequences.

Perspectives on the role of practical fighting in Chinese martial arts

28 Mar

This is part of my continuing series of articles discussing the practical training and application of Chinese martial arts. While their intent is not to insult, they are indeed intended to make the reader reexamine what they practice and how they practice it.


All technique exists in a context. Theory produces concepts, concepts produce techniques. However, all technique is based upon context. The theory and concepts instead are universal. The theory and concept persist. If we focus on the technique, ignoring the context, and ignore the theory and concepts, we do a disservice to our arts. This I believe is one of the major issues facing Chinese martial arts in the modern age.


By the time I moved to Washington DC in 1991 to pursue my graduate degree, Chan Tai-San’s school had already abandoned the so called “point fighting” that was offered in martial arts tournaments. We not only were limited in what we could do but we were consistently being disqualified not only for excessive contact but what the referees were calling “uncontrolled technique.” Lama Pai and Choy Lay Fut are both long arm systems, our techniques were not “uncontrolled” they were just something the so called officials were either uncomfortable or unfamiliar with.


The school had already begun participating in the national tournaments held by the North American Chinese Martial Arts Federation (NACMAF) under Tai Yim Sifu (Hung Fut). NACMAF sparring had no head contact, but was full contact to the body and legs. Our results were mixed. I placed third in the “open weight” division, disqualified for throwing a so choih (sweep punch) which did not actually connect. We had been told that was legal (to demonstrate the technique) but when I did I was disqualified. I still faired better than my training brother, Michael Parrella, who in his first match instinctively caught a kick and sweep out the supporting leg. Michael was immediately disqualified. That year we took as many trophies in sparring as we did in empty hand and weapon sets (see the picture).


Prior to studying with Chan Tai San, I already had a background in amateur boxing and in full contact Taekwondo. We always had a generous amount of contact and sparring in the public classes I ran. The NACMAF sparring was better than most of the options we had at the time, but I still felt much was missing. In Washington DC, I worked out with a Jeet Kune Do group that mixed Joe Lewis’ Karate/Kickboxing system (with a strong boxing base) with Muay Thai. The UFC also premiered during the time I was in Washington DC. Upon returning to New York, I was interested in seeing how Lama Pai would hold up on different fighting events.


In the early years, we entered literally anything we could find. Each venue provided me with different challenges. Amateur boxing (the NYC Golden Gloves) obviously prevented us from kicking, sweeping, throwing etc. American kickboxing (which most of the local events were at this time, Muay Thai was not yet the popular form) had no low kicks, no sweeps, no clinch, no kick catches, etc. Sanshou was in its infancy at this point. We even entered no-gi submission grappling events. Muay Thai ironically was the best venue for us.


My approach to preparing for each of these venues was to find what CONCEPTS from Lama Pai I could apply (legally) in these venues. It was indeed amusing to see people dismiss us as “crazy kung fu people” and then have us succeed in each venue. We have finalists in the NYC Golden Gloves, regional champions in American Kickboxing, and even won several no-gi submission matches at a time when it was IMPOSSIBLE to get a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instruct to share because the mentality at the time was “us vs. them.”


Our success not only validated my belief in Chan Tai San and his teachings, but also caused me to become less attached to specific technique. Technique was totally context dependent (i.e. the rules of the venue) but the concepts were universal. Or, rather, I discovered which concepts were universal, and discarded things that I felt were not so practical.


This understanding of the universality of concepts was helpful when I began to cross train. Yi (intention), Yu Lik (waist power), Lihn Waan (Continuousness), Chyuhn (penetration), Sim (evasion) etc. were extremely useful when looking at western boxing. Furthermore, having a solid grounding in THEORY and CONCEPT allowed me to pick and choose effectively the techniques from cross training that fit into the larger picture.


As I began cross training with wrestlers, I found in western wrestling ideas/concepts that the traditional Chinese martial artist assumes are exclusive to their traditions. In learning to pummel, “listening”, “sticking”, “yielding”, sinking the Dan Tin, “suck”, “spit”, etc all were apparent. As I am sure all southern martial artists have done, I had learned to trap blindfolded. I began to pummel blindfolded. I found it a seamless experience.


In Muay Thai, I found that concepts fundamental to Lama Pai were the bread and butter of their fighters; Jit (intercept), Bin (whip), Chat Sing Bouh (7 star stepping), Gwan (stop passage).


Ironically, I found that many in the Mou Lam failed to see all of this. They were obsessed with the technique, failing to see the concepts. They saw the trees without every realizing they were in a forest! I still find it amusing that some call my taking my teacher’s art into so many venues and WINNING as a “betrayal.”? The greatest obstacle to modern Chinese martial arts is it’s students not understand that it is not WHAT you practice, but rather HOW you practice it.

“Championship Productions” F–K YOU! (Parental Warning)

28 Mar

Please DO NOT look up “championship productions” on the internet, visit their web site or give them any business. ESPECIALLY DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR BUSINESS. Thanks.

As most of you know, over the years I’ve discussed a wide variety of wrestling techniques on this blog and over the internet. Despite a few ignorant remarks from uneducated people, wrestling is a martial art with very high level technique and in which leverage and anatomy are utilized. Unfortunately, a lot of that information disappeared, and that’s why today’s blog is entitled “Championship Productions F–K YOU“!


Under a legal understanding called “FAIR USE,” small clips are routinely and LEGALLY used for academic discussion, study and/or criticism. I took a few clips (most less than a minute long) to discuss certain techniques and their mechanics. Again, I have every LEGAL RIGHT to do this. Unfortunately, on “youtube” every baby with a soiled diaper can cry and, despite fair use, they demand you take down the clips. They also threaten you with legal action.


Now, perhaps more importantly, “fair use” aside, let’s talk about what sort of scrooge decides to make these claims? Is a one minute clip of a 55 minute instructional going to discourage you from purchasing that product? NOT LIKELY. In fact, it is more likely to inspire you to BUY THE PRODUCT. Pretty stupid and short sighted to demand a clip that might promote your company be ripped down. In the past, I recommended to people buying this company’s products. Now, I ask anyone who has enjoyed or learned anything from my blog or posts to BOYCOTT this company.

In short, for being short sighted, petty, small, irrational and not understanding how the internet works, I’d like to tell “championship productions” to go F–K themselves and encourage all my friends to NEVER buy a product from this company.

Daoist metaphysics in practical application

23 Mar

In recent years, serious academic studies of Chinese martial arts have produced valuable information. Unfortunately, for many of those comfortable with what their teacher told them and what they have believed for years, this information challenges many long held beliefs and it is more comfortable to ignore.


At this point, the historical record seems quite clear. Prior to the Ming Dynasty, martial arts in China meant weaponry, with the associated wrestling, kicking and short striking necessary to complement such weaponry. This should not surprise us. Men fight wars with weapons and a similar developmental path occurred in the West.


As battlefield martial art (weaponry) trickles down into the regular population, there is an increased interest in the unarmed aspects and the development of more diversity. The “civilian” is not engaging in battles, with large armies, in armor, etc. The civilian martial art is for personal honor (duels), minor conflicts of self interest, and the rather vague all encompassing term “self defense.” In China, during the Ming Dynasty, the historical record indicates that for the first time unarmed systems as we know them began to emerge.


Simultaneously, these new unarmed systems interacted with and were influenced by religious, quasi-religious and shamanistic practices that had already existed in the society but had never been connected to the practice of martial arts. Men such as Chen Tinghua perceived connections between their martial arts and existing religious practices such as Daoism. Unfortunately, we are actually left with a case of “the chicken or the egg”? Did the martial arts develop FROM Daoist metaphysics? Or, did later practitioners simply borrow metaphysics to explain already existing techniques and strategies?


In Daoist metaphysics, the “Taiji” is much more than a little circle divided with a squiggly line. It is much more than “yin” and “yang.” It is an entire cosmological system. One of the most important aspect of this system is the north-south axis.


In martial arts, we can visual that north-south axis as the moment two combatants approach each other. For example, you could visualize yourself standing at the southern pole, facing north toward your opponent, who is standing at the northern pole facing south. However, in most Chinese martial arts the idea of standing on the same line (Jih Wu) and exchanging blows is akin to “cave man fighting.” There are more efficient methods of fighting.


I can step to my left or to my right, creating an angle. That angle can allow me to “slip” an attack, it can be an angle that allows me to strike in a way that is more difficult to avoid, or even allow me to strike in a way in which my opponent can not counter attack. If I am standing at either pole and begin moving in either direction, I am moving along the cardinal points of the compass. One potential way of explaining this, rather than simple compass points (north, northwest, northeast, etc) is the “Ba Gua.” Did the I-Ching and the Ba Gua create this strategy? Or is just a way to explain this strategy?

7 star

The “Qi Xing” (Chat Sing) or “Seven Star” is a representation of the big dipper in Daoism. It is however represented by a zig-zag like line. Take a look at the “Ba Gua” again, thinking of it as a compass. You are facing north. You step to the left to create an angle (you are standing on the southwest marker). Either your strike or your footwork takes you toward your opponent. You are traveling on the southwest-to-northeast line. You are also zig-zagging across the primal north-south axis. THIS is “Qi Xing.”


Teachers such as Chen may have recognized in their martial arts these illustrations, and found them useful. For most of the public however, they were outright fooled into thinking that the so called “internal arts” were in fact the product of Daoists at Wu-Dang mountain. In 1894, Chen, Liu Dekuan, Li Cunyi and Liu Wei Xiang, teachers of the so called “internal arts” (Taiji, Hsing Yi and Bagua), found their methods shared many common points and adopted the name “Nei Jia Quan.”

Depending upon the source, some claim the four were unaware of an earlier Ming Dynasty martial art and book by Hung Bai Jia with the title “Nei Jia Quan.” Hung’s “Nei Jia Pai” book claimed HIS art had Daoist origins and originated at Wu Dang Mountain. Nothing at all documents or confirms this account and in all likelihood it was just a story by Hung to boost the credibility of the art.


Regardless, the general public neither questioned Hung’s pseduo-history NOR made a distinction between Hung’s “Nei Jia Quan” and the NEW group using the same name. Thus, the public incorrectly associated the three arts of Taiji, Hsing Yi and Bagua with Wu Dang.


Returning to the understanding of martial arts footwork and angles using the Daoist metaphysical cosmology, now consider the “five element” theory and it’s implications for combat. The “five element” theory is both “creative” and “destructive”. Movement and angles can create opportunity while intersecting the north-south axis can result in counter attacks which “destroy” your opponent and his offense. It is much more complex than “my A punch beats your B punch.”


Returning to the “chicken or the egg” argument, we have an account by a famous Hsing-Yi instructor that when he trained (within the past 100 years) the so called “five element” theory was not discussed or taught as part of Hsing Yi. Yet we also know that by the late 1800′s the so called “internal arts” (Taiji, Hsing Yi and Bagua) were all established and popular among those who used these methods for fighting. The obvious conclusion, “five element” theory was adopted after the fact to explain fighting concepts which had developed independent of Daoist metaphysics.

I am sure this will create quite a controversy, but the truth is still the truth, regardless of whether you like it or not. Be well, and train hard.

Sifu Ross

Do as I say…. because I do as I say.. or maybe not?

22 Mar

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better (Better)
A little better all the time (It can’t get more worse)

My next few blogs are going to be dedicated to changing your mindset, changing the way martial arts schools are run and in general being a much happier person. Thus, it might be a little more for school owners and people running programs. However, if you are a student these may help you understand your instructor a little better.


The economy, the culture, lazy kids, cheap people, disloyal students, the competitor school across town, newspaper ads don’t work, you don’t understand this new social media crap, you’re too old to learn this social media crap, no one understand tradition anymore, MMA has made martial arts crap…. I could continue. Do you know what all of these are? EXCUSES.

All those students who made it to black belt, all those trophies and championships your students won, the “school of the year” award you won, etc. You took credit for all of those successes. You were responsible for all those successes. Why are you unable to take responsibility for your FAILURES?

If you own a martial arts school or are the head instructor, you are responsible for everything. Own up to your decisions and your actions. More importantly, ask for help! This is the hardest thing for a martial arts instructor, admitting you are wrong and need help. And even when it is offered, we make excuses and brush it off… but remember, EVERYTHING that happened in your school was because of you! If you were perfect, you’d be in a much better place? Wouldn’t you be? How can you lecture your students about killing their ego, when you can’t put yours in check?


Am I beating you up? GOOD. The truth hurts, and like an AA meeting, the first step to recovery is getting up and admitting your problem. We need “MAA” as in Martial Artists Anonymous. We need to trash EVERYTHING and rethink and relearn it. Unless of course you have over 1000 students and your school is making $90,000 a month. If it is, sorry, you can stop reading.

No one is saying it is easy. I have had good times and plenty of BAD TIMES. I have had to turn my ego off and accept my failures. And it is a process, an ongoing process. I constantly need to put myself in check, remind myself I am responsible for both my success and failures, and constantly learn new things and improve the way I do things. It’s like that Beatles song…

Speaking of people with over 1000 students and a school making $90,000 a month, let me introduce you to a guy named Michael Parrella. Michael is known as a student of my late teacher, Chan Tai-San. But he actually began training with me. And even in Chan Tai San’s school, he’s my junior. PSSSTTTT, I’m higher ranked! What can Michael teach me? A LOT, including how to be a much happier person. Of course it was hard to “let go,” admit I was the source of my problems, and fix them. But I am so happy I was able to do it and I encourage you all to do it.

WHY? Well, because I learned a new way to do things. An easier, happier way. Why keep banging your head against the wall? And starting in my next blog I’ll start explaining in more concrete terms what I mean by all this.

David Ross

“Fighters” vs. “Black Belts” and other observations on the fight game

28 Feb

I have written about this a few times before. I put my first fighter in an event in 1994. I’ve trained people to participate in a wide variety of combat sports from amateur boxing, to American kickboxing, to Muay Thai and San Da, and Mixed Martial Arts. In total I’ve trained three world champions, 18 national (tournament) champions, several national champions and regional champions. I’ve had a good deal of success and been on a few sides of the “fight game” over the years. I have made a few distinct observations on training “fighters.”


If you’ve spent any time in combat sports, you have seen fighters and their trainers break up. You’ve seen fighters float from camp to camp. You’ve heard all sorts of disagreements. At it’s worse, the parties may say some pretty horrible things about each other. But if you understand what a fighter is and what a trainer is, none of this should really surprise you.


A fighter, by their nature, has to have the utmost confidence in themselves. In fact, they have to have more than that! They have to think they are the best. They have to picture in their mind that they are future champions of the world. They see no weakness in themselves and believe they can defeat anyone and everyone. Fighters and big egos go hand in hand.


By contrast, a trainer/coach HAS to know a fighter’s weaknesses. They have to know who they can easily beat, who they MIGTH beat and who they definitely can not beak. A trainer’s job is to not only develop the fighter but to protect them. It is anything but an easy job. Give them too many easy fights and they will never grow. Give them too many hard fights and they may become injured, discouraged or dropped from the rankings.

Most fighters are also young, with hot tempers and little experience in the fight game. Trainers, the good ones, know how the industry works. Some titles are off the table because they are held by a promoter and they know that your fighter will beat their fighter. Sometimes titles are offered precisely because they know their fighter can beat your fighter. A fighter may think their trainer is “holding them back” or denying them opportunities. The reality is a lot more complex.


Personally, I never want to turn a fighter pro until I feel they have enough experience. Part of that experience is seeing them fight a tough opponent, having the fight go badly, and seeing my fighter adapt under pressure. If you’ve been fed the bum of the month club, you aren’t prepared to be a professional fighter.

For example, I had a guy with a wrestling background. In the amateurs, he had been paired with a lot of guys who not only had no wrestling, but also questionable striking skills. The amateurs are often take-what-you-can-get. My fighter racked up a bunch of wins and wanted two things; a title shot and to turn pro.

A number of titles were simply off the table, controlled by promoters who have vested interests in the current champions. We had been offered fights which I considered “set ups.” Unfortunately, the fighter kept pressuring me to arrange a “title fight” and I finally agreed. My worst fear of course materialized. The existing champion was a better wrestler and my fighter suddenly found themselves for the first time on the bottom. Worse, they simply did not adapt, they did not respond, they shut down. Conclusion, definitely not ready to “turn pro.”


I have very high standards and very specific rules, which is why I have only had a few bad stories like that. I’ve even had some wonderful reverse situations, taking fighters to what the promoter thought was a “set up” and going home with the title. But having high standards has meant I’ve had quite a few frustrated fighters who didn’t understand the larger picture. A few have left. I’ve also asked a few to leave.


The fight game has no shortage of unethical trainers and promoters. I’ve seen guys that left my gym become the “bum of the month,” fed to a succession of much better fighters. I shake my head, but at the end of the day “I told you so.” I’ve also seen guys who took my former fighter, who may have had 7, 10, 18 fights with me and stick them in with newbies… justifying it as “well, they are NEW in my gym.” Did those wins really mean much? Anything?


Fighters by nature are these funny creatures. The ego thing. They come to you knowing nothing, you built them up, and after they experience success they often forget who brought them to the party. Yes, I’ve heard some pretty funny things come out of their mouths. All of which explains why as time passes, I have become more interested in training students, rather than “fighters.”

(Some) secrets of my success…

24 Feb

** WARNING – Parental advisory, explicit language **

‘Cause sometimes you just feel tired,
Feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.
But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength

You don’t have to be an asshole to be a martial arts teachers, just most of us make it seem that way. Or at least that is how we come across to a lot of people who enter our facilities. I am certainly NOT exempt from this characterization. In fact, for a long time if you looked up “martial arts asshole” in the dictionary, my picture was featured in the entry.


There are a lot of reasons why we come off wrong to potential students. Part of it is “culture shock.” By the time we own and are running a martial arts school we’ve spent a major portion of our lives in a very different world. We can’t understand the guy who walks with his street shoes onto the mat and into the middle of a class. Or the lady who is snapping her gum while asking you what are your credentials? Make no mistake, part of it is also that there ARE jerks, scam artists, crazy people and irrational people who want to waste our time and have no respect. But I am going to let you in on the real secret to all this…..

The sad, not so secret fact of our industry is that far too many school owners are tired. They struggle. They struggle to pay their bills. They are usually just one or two months away from going broke and out of business. For every six figure rock star in the industry, there are probably 100 school owners who fit that bill. And when you are tired, struggling, SCARED… it’s hard to deal with these problems. It’s hard to smile, be polite, and, most importantly, to keep it moving.

Life works in cycles, either “vicious cycles” or “success breeds success.” It is a LOT easier to be polite and defuse a difficult client when you are a happy person. I speak here from direct personal experience. And when you are happy, you provide a better customer experience. A better customer experience makes for happier clients and brings you more success.

Of course, all that is easier said than done when you are still struggling. The next not-so-secret is that martial arts instructors have a huge problem letting go, admitting they don’t know and asking for help. We can lecture for hours a day to our students about ego, but it’s clearly “do as I say, not as I do.” ASK FOR HELP. And ACT upon the advice you are given. Ask yourself, if you really already had all the answers, would you be where you are now? Chances are, you are in the 99%. You need help. But don’t be afraid to ask for it.

The role of Chinese martial arts in a modern society

29 Dec

To simplify a rather complex history, it is relatively safe to say that Chinese martial arts, like martial arts across the globe, originated as combat method. It was used on battlefields, and then as self-defense method, for dueling/personal honor and other “private” motivations. In China, it became associated with the JiangHu (江湖), literally “rivers and lakes,” a marginalized sub-culture. All this is to say that in ancient China, martial art training was frequently the defense against an often cruel and savage world. In short, the men who originally practiced these methods lived in a world very few of us alive today would recognize or understand.


During the Ming Dynasty, empty hand fighting techniques merged with gymnastic, meditative and other spiritual practices. Teachers began to see connections between Buddhist and Taoist concepts and their martial arts practice. In the modern period, both the New Culture Movement and May 4th Movement also caused the reevaluation of the roles of Chinese martial arts in society. They became physical culture, exercise, cultural preservation, and recreation. All these trends co-existed, intertwined, cooperated and conflicted, and often never clearly vocalized nor with a conscious awareness.


Of course, the original intent, unrestricted combat between trained fighters was never completely severed from the tradition. Nor did it really lose its utility. Our society has remained violent and is still inhabited by professional criminals. Street effective self-defense skills remain a relevant aspiration for all people, regardless of their age, sex, social condition or profession. In a minute I will also discuss another important role keeping our fighting skill plays in the larger picture.


All this is to say, that in today’s modern society, martial arts can indeed be seen in a larger picture. Once, only as fighting skills for the able-bodied men who could endure the training, today martial arts can offer benefits such as the improvement and maintenance of health, the development of ethics and virtue, self-discipline and confidence. The training can benefit everyone, regardless of age, sex or physical condition. However, I must stress this point. It must retain its usefulness as practical self-defense.


When a student joins a martial arts school, regardless of their other interests or goals or whether they say it or not, they expect to learn to defend themselves. They trust their instructors with their lives. How often have we heard about martial arts students being seriously injured or killed in street confrontations? The answer is all too frequently and this is unacceptable. It is unethical and immoral to advertise self-defense training without offering instruction that accepts the reality of true self-defense.


Additionally, for all their talk of spiritual development, etc., those who embrace the mystical and ignore the practical application fail to understand that martial arts without the fighting aspect is an empty practice that leads to self-delusion. Taking a thrashing and learning ones real skill level is in itself a Buddhist lesson. A hard one, but an important lesson none the less. Insecurities hide behind elaborate facades that are best torn down by live training. Nothing crushes the ego more than knowing your real place in the grand scheme of things.

NY San Da
NY Best Kickboxing


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