Why the Hype about Steve Jobs?

Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere, you know that recently the world lost the mind of Steve Jobs, the Co-Founder of Apple and Pixar Animation.  He was a brilliant man who brought a lot of great things to the world in terms of technology and innovation.  Still, my wife brought up an good point; why is everyone so captivated by his passing?  She didn’t understand what she perceived as hype.  She pointed out that everyone is talking about him as if he were the president of the United States or some extremely important dignitary.  As some levels, I think Steve Jobs was even more important than that.

It is not just that he was the founder of Apple and Pixar but that he fundamentally changed the way the world works.  I would argue that without Steve Jobs behind the wheel of Apple, the computer revolution as we know it today would not have happened.  His vision changed how we thought of the computer.  Before Jobs, computers were machines that took up entire rooms and then entire desktops.  His vision was of products that would fit into the palm of your hand.  It is by his insight that the world became flat again.  That people in India are able to complete on a global scale with people in the United States.  His vision has allowed many to have meaningful work doing things they love from the comfort of their homes.  Although Jobs did not invent the Internet, he did recreate the fundamental machine that uses the Internet.  He recreated the devices that power the economies of the world, he created new devices to power revolutions.

Would Twitter have been born without the Mac?  Would millions of people be able to make money with music, applications, and games without the iPod and the App Store?  Would we be able to see nearly live video of oppressive government crackdowns on protesters without the micro-camera capabilities the iPhone brought us?  It is these capabilities that have changed the world.  The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were driven by technology of Twitter and Facebook.  Protesters were using their iPhones to tell each other where to meet.  They were sharing the images of hope and freedom around the world through their phones.

Through the technology he created he has even changed the martial arts.  Martial arts ideas are spread faster because there is now technology available to post blogs and videos about different concepts and facilitate discussion on them.  If students have questions about techniques, they don’t have to wait for the next class to get it, they can send an e-mail or better yet, they can search for a video of the information.  They have ready access to the technology and the information.  That makes them better students who stick around longer and learn more.  Without Jobs, these things would not have been possible.

There is another reason I think Jobs is so highly revered.  He gave us dreams.  He gave us the dream that we could do all the same things he could do.  He gave us the dream that the technology of science fiction could be a reality, just look at what is already available.  Through him we could dream of the impossible, the improbable, and the incredible.  We could dream of devices that listened to our speech and did what we told it to do, like “Computer” on Star Trek.  I believe it is because he gave us all the ability to dream big dreams that Jobs will be missed.  Yes, he was just one man.  He was a regular guy who had the same problems and issues as the rest of us but he was a man of unusual ability, the ability to know our dreams and fulfill them.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Random Thoughts


Tags: , , , , , ,

Taekwondo Belt Testing

“When do I get my next belt?”

If I had a dollar for every time one of my students asked me this question, I wouldn’t have to teach anymore, I would be retired and a millionaire!  Seriously.  Now, there are several things I could talk about today in regards to the testing process but what I am going to talk about is why we test and the process.

In the old days of martial arts there were no belt tests.  The story goes that a student started with a belt merely as a way to keep his gi closed.  He trained with that belt until his instructor told him he was sufficiently trained.  In reality, most fighting systems and styles of the past had no rank or belts, they merely had a type of licensing process that ensured the student had enough knowledge to be able to teach others the style without destroying the integrity of the art.  Dr. Jigoro Kano, founder of Kodokan Judo, is recognized as the creator of the modern belt rank system and it was adopted by Gichin Funakoshi into Okinawan Karate.  It has since been transferred to almost all modern martial arts.  As well as other teaching systems, ever heard of “Recorder Karate”  If you want to read a very good explanation of the history of belt ranks click to this article by Don Cunningham on Belt Colors and Ranking Tradition.

In my school we have ten belt ranks or gup ranks based on traditional Taekwondo.  The colors we use to denote each rank: white, orange, orange trim, yellow, green, blue, purple, purple trim, brown, and red are arbitrary.  They do not actually mean anything in regard to the rank outside of our school.  The color order is meant to signify the growth of a plant from seed to mature plant.  It is the gup rank that determines rank in the art.  Each of our belt ranks take approximately three to four months to complete, as long as the student is training consistently about two days a week and practicing outside of regular classes at home.

We test students because we want to keep student focused on their training.  If a student starts training and is told that they will not see any visible progress for three to five years until they get to black belt, it’s not going to take long before students become discouraged.  Many times students are training similar material they trained previously but they are focusing on a different element of each skill.  For instance, we teach a series of one step defenses called Korean One Steps and Basic One Steps; within them several techniques look exactly the same.  Differences are found in where we focus on each technique and each test reflects that too.  When we train students on the second technique we look at their footwork; how they are moving their feet and getting out of the way of the attack.  This process happens with a lot of material we teach in class, it is repetitive because repetition builds skill.  If we did not have belt ranks, this repetition would cause students would leave and some still do.  As students progress in belt rank they learn to be more focused, disciplined, controlled, and they learn how to develop power in every technique.  Progressive belt ranks allow that to develop naturally and by once they get to black belt they are strong, skilled, and powerful.

The process of the test is pretty simple; we test pattern, kicking technique, one step defenses, self-defense, and breaking.  The patterns we use are the World Taekwondo Federation Teaguk and Palgwe series.  While students are performing their pattern, we look for correct pattern execution, their balance, power, focus, breath control, and symmetry.  During testing of their kicking technique we focus our attention on several different sets of Kicking Combinations.  These combinations not only teach kicking technique but they teach stringing actions together with blocks and punches.  Our kicking combinations are also used to teach different levels of body control; bilateral control is taught in several techniques.  Bilateral control is where one side of the body is doing something completely different than the other side and the student must perform both actions correctly, simultaneously.

One Steps of various styles are very traditional methods of teaching attacking and counter-attacking techniques.  Many attacks starts from a traditional front stance position and are initiated by a stepping lunge punch to the mid-line of the body or the face.  Defenders in each action execute a variety of defenses against the attacks by moving forward, backward, to each side, and diagonally.  Self-defense techniques are defenses of a Hapkido nature in that they involve the opponent grabbing hold of part of the body or clothing and the defender performing joint manipulations, locks, take-downs, and throws.  Breaking is what it sounds like and is probably the most fun part of the testing and one that all the visitors enjoy watching.  Students attempt to break one inch pine boards with foot and hand techniques.  Board breaking starts with easy techniques like Stomp Break and progress to more difficult breaks with multiple boards.

When a student successfully completes all parts of their test they are award their new rank.  For our school the awarding of rank happens right away but there are some schools in which the testing and rank awarding ceremonies are separate events.  Some time after the test is complete, students are issued their belt rank certificate. This is also dependent upon the school.  Some schools don’t have paper certificates that accompany the belts, some get their certificates right away, others like ours make students wait.  We make students wait not because we don’t like them but because we want the certificate to show the date the student actually earned the belt.  Some students don’t finish their test on the night of the testing, they have something to complete.  They have not failed but they have not yet finished, so we make them go home and practice some more before we let them finish the test.  When they finish their test, the certificate is issued with the completion date as the date the rank was earned.

As you can see there are many different ways to test students from one belt rank to the next.  If you have a question about a particular style of martial art and the way they progress in rank, my best advice is to find one of those schools nearest you and contact them.  Ask your questions, try the classes, and see how they do it there.  You will not be disappointed if you go in with an open mind and an empty cup.


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 Tips for Summer Safety

Here are 6 tips for staying safe when enjoying the Great Outdoors.

1. Awareness—Be aware of Fringe Areas. They are places close enough to people to feel safe but far enough away to be vulnerable.  Fringe Areas are dangerous because they put us off our guard.  We are so close to people that we feel safe and protected, “No one would do anything here, its too exposed.”  This often not the case and you should be vigilant in places like parking lots, parking garages, wooded parks, office stair wells, public bathrooms, indoor 24 hour ATMs, and other places just off the normal path of people.

2. Be Unpredictable—Use different routes on walks or runs and change the time of day you go out.  This creates uncertainty.   This uncertainty is what will keep you safe.  If you always go out for a run at 5:30 AM and always use the same route, people will begin to notice that and will grow accustom to seeing you.  Although we might think this is a good thing, it really isn’t.  It means that people will begin to expect you at certain times and criminals will pick up on those times as well. Also, going out at different times and on different routes makes people notice and they will look at you right away.  They want to know what crazy person is out there right now.  They take notice.  They won’t if you are on a routine.

3. Invisible Valuables—Put wallet, purse, and backpack in the trunk. The old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” applies here nicely.  If this sounds odd to you, it probably will be right away.  We don’t think we need to put things in the trunk of our cars because we usually look them all the time.  If the valuables are visible in the interior a thief will not waste much time breaking the window and taking the stuff.  I had a sister-in-law who had the top of a fire hydrant thrown through her window so the thief could take her fake Guchi handbag.  Put it in the trunk.  If you don’t want to walk to the back of your car, many cars have back seats that fold down to access the trunk.  Do a little stretching in your car and put it in the back.  You will be glad you did

4. Communicate—Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.  This is a simple thing to do but so many of us forget to do it.  All we have to do is say, “I am going out for a run now, be back in 30 minutes following County Road 9.”  This is easy and will ensure that someone will become worried if you don’t show up on time.

5. Bring A Buddy—You are safer with someone else, plus it’s more fun that way! It is proven that having a workout buddy enhances motivation and encourages you do train longer.  You will get a better workout and have more fun because you will be with another person.  We are all social creatures and enjoy being with people who have similar interests as we do.  This has the added benefit of providing another safety measure between us and danger.  It is harder to find a time when two people are vulnerable to crime.  It is possible and it does happen but your odds are less.

6. Enjoy Nature—Go outside without the iPod, cell phone, or iPad. Listen to the birds, animals, and all the people.  Music and headphone cut out your ability to hear noises around you and as much motivation as it is to have music playing while you work out.  It is more dangerous because you cannot hear anyone coming.  Try to go without the music and let yourself enjoy the world around you.  You will find that there are far more things happening in the world when you can hear them.

By observing the above 6 Tips you will put yourself in a much better position to stop crime before it can start. It is much easier to avoid violence and crime than it is to stop it once it starts.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Self-Defense


Essense of the Martial Arts

Just finished reading about one man’s incredible journey training in some of the poorest areas of the world but learning so much about himself and his martial art.

Christian Gruagart is a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu brown belt and coach. He is currently traveling around the world training and teaching, but he is not teaching where we might think. This post is from a training experience he had in Moldova with students who don’t even have heat in their training hall.

This is an incredible post, which moves you and displays the essence of what it means to be a martial artist. To give of yourself in all things, perform to the best of your abilities in all ways, and always learn from your experiences.

Thank you Christian for sharing with the rest of us and teaching us what it means to be a dedicated martial artist. Your example of humility is inspiring!


Tags: , , ,

Slow Motion Training

Speed, blinding speed to crush our opponents, that’s what we are supposed to be focusing on, aren’t we?  Often as we increase in rank our skills as a martial artist increase to the point in which we feel that we can do any technique with little or no assistance.  They are effortless, smooth, and most importantly, they are fast.  This is the important part of our training, right, to be able to devistate anyone with our best technique in less time than it takes to blink?  Well…that’s what we think is important right now. 

In one of my previous posts called “Purple Belt Blues” I talked about ways that we can spice our our training once we get to a high level.  We can add competitions in one form or another, these small competitions are great for enhancing our training.  There is another often overlooked method to enhancing your training, especially your speed training.  Slow motion.

When I talk about slow motion, I mean REALLY slow motion, stuck in molasses slow motion.  Slow motion so devoid of speed that we can count our heartbeats between the section of a technique.  We do this for several reasons but the primary one is to build muscle memory.

Muscle memory is the process by which we ingrain a skill into the neuromuscular pathway so that we do not have to think about it any longer.  Writing or typing is a prime example of muscle memory.  You don’t have to think about your “ABC”s every time you pick up a pencil.  You don’t have to think about the keys on the keyboard whenever you start to type.  You just do it.  This took years of training, which we all hated because we couldn’t undertand why it was important.  Most of this training took place in elementary school by following guides and tracing letters over and over until you could do it faster without thinking about it.  That is what I am talking about here too.  You follow a pattern or method of producing the same result over and over until your muscles just know the action.  When you tell them to execute, you do not have to think about it any longer, it just happens.

Working on slow motion techniques requires you to execute everything very slowly, holding each piece for several seconds.  For instance in a roundhouse kick, I would say to start in your Guarding Stance with one leg back then slowly bring the kicking leg forward so that the knee is pointed toward the target (Chamber Position).  At this point, stop and hold the Chamber Position to check your balance and focus, try to visualize yourself from the outside, what do you look like right now.  Next pivot the heel of your base foot 180 degrees and rotate your hips to open them, keep the knee up and the foot behind the knee (Pivot Position).  The lower leg should be horizontal at this point.  Again, hold this position to focus on your balance, control, and body posture.  Then, fully extend the leg through the target you are kicking in a slow controlled movement (Extention Position).  Hold position for several seconds.  Slowly return leg to Pivot Position, focusing again on the balance and posture of your body before finally setting your foot down in a controlled motion to finish the kick. 

Here is a good image representation of the process.  There is one point of differentiation I would like to make though.  This image has combined the Pivot Position and Extention Position into one “Kicking Position” (#3) for the purposes of Slow Motion Training, divide this into two positions.

Step by Step breakdown of Roundhouse Kick

At several points along this process your muscles will start to scream at you and you will want to drop your leg to rest.  Resist the temptation as long as you can as this stress on the muscles will build the muscle memory necessary to perform the kick more correctly in a full speed setting.  Perform ten repetition for each leg of your basic kicking and striking actions, don’t add weights or resistance bands as this is counter-productive, but use the body’s own weight.  The more often you perform this drill with various techniques, the better they will become.  Soon, you will be kicking, blocking, and punching faster and stronger than ever before.  Good luck and happy training.

If you want to see a nice explanation of the roundhouse kick, click to the discuss I had on the differences in Kicking between Muay Thai and Taekwondo.


Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Martial arts, Traditional Training


Tags: , , , , , , ,

We need to breathe differently?

Once our students get to intermediate ranks we start to discuss with them the importance of breathing while performing actions.  At first, the look on their faces is priceless; it is a combination of confusion and disbelief.  “Don’t we breathe already?” is often heard.  “Yes,” comes the answer, “but not purposefully.”  There is a big difference between breathing for the sake of living and breathing for the intended purpose of martial arts training.  Both are not the same.

When a student begins their martial arts training, we ask them to yell or kihop this is a “spirit yell” and for most of our students who are under the age of 12 it helps them to loosen up and have fun making noise.  For older students, we talk about energy or ki that is developed in the abdomen and pushed forward as we yell.  This is a whole separate topic of discussion for another time.   For today, we are going to discuss the actual physiological method by which breathing will increase the power of your techniques.

First and most important, we must come to the understanding that all of our techniques of blocking, punching, kicking, and moving start with the core.  When kicking, our core must engage to start the motion that moves our legs into each kick.  When punching, we engage our core to create rotation around which our arms can travel to strike their target.  To define core, we mean the muscles and connective tissue of the abdomen, obliques, and lower back.  This girdle area of our bodies is incredibly important to the way we move and live.

How breathing ties into this discussion is in the fact that our core is key to the respiration process.  When we breathe our abdomen contracts and relaxes which helps move the diaphragm and ribs.  The contraction of the muscles around the core help to effectively push air out of our lungs.  Teaching kids to yell with every strike gets them to do this without realizing they are doing anything special.  Exhaling forcefully in yelling causes our core muscles to also stabilize our bodies and provide a better platform to perform techniques.

Forceful exhalation through core contraction provides a better pathway for energy transfer as well.  Huh!?  My Judo instructor called it “traveling tension” and he demonstrated it in a really interesting way.  Find a large space and take off your shoes, now close your eyes and walk in a straight line with your hands relaxed at your sides.  Be aware of the sound of your feet as they contact the floor’s surface.  Now, go back to the starting point and do the same thing, except this time clench your fists really tight.  Notice the different sound your feet make as you walk across the floor.  They sound louder don’t they?  This is traveling tension.  When you clenched your fists, it caused all of the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, and legs to get tighter as well.  Slightly, but they did.  This slight change in tension altered the way your feet hit the ground, they hit harder because you were clenching hard.

If we contract the core muscles, we initiate the same situation to the entire body.  With the core muscles contracted and tight, the muscles in the rest of the body will be tighter and more stabilized.  The tighter muscles will transfer the energy from the core into the strike, block, or kick.

Lets look at a simple straight punch for a breakdown of how this whole process works.  We decide we are going to punch so we contract the oblique muscles to begin a rotation, then muscles contract along a chain to our arm.  As we are punching, we are also pushing against the ground with our feet to develop a foundation.  This pushing against the ground is causing force to be pushed back in the opposite direction from the ground, think Newton’s Laws of Motion from high school.  (Incidentally, pushing with our legs also starts with our core and travels down.)  Our fist is almost upon the target now and the muscles in our hand and arm begin to clench tighter.  As our fist hits the target, we exhale forcefully causing the muscles in our abdomen to contract and stabilize, this allows the energy traveling from the ground up to continue to transfer to our arms and ultimately to the target.

Thus the implementation of proper breathing increases the power of your punch because you are stabilizing and contracting almost all of the muscles of the body at the very instant of impact.  Think of it like this…every try pushing something with a cooked spaghetti noodle? Doesn’t work does it, because the energy of your push is lost in the hyper-flexibility of the noodle.  Now, try to push something with an uncooked spaghetti noodle.  Works much easier, doesn’t it?  That’s because the energy of your push is transfered from your hand THROUGH the noodle into the object.  When you breathe properly during striking, blocking, and kicking your muscles become the uncooked spaghetti noodle and the force transfers through them to the target.

When in doubt as to how to create power in your techniques…YELL!

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  If you have a better explanation or a more concise explanation, post a link to your blog and I would love to read it and pass it along to my students.

Below is a great video about the mechanics of breathing, it’s use in martial arts, and some exercises.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Martial arts, Traditional Training


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“Purple Belt Blues”

We have all had a form of the “Purple Belt Blues” at one time or another.  This is the point where we have trained to a high level and start to see our progress start to slow down.  We don’t see improvement as often as before and we start to get bored!  “I know this already!” or “When will we do something new?” is often either spoken out loud or muttered under our breath.  What can we do to combat the “Purple Belt Blues?”

In a word: Competiti0n

Competitions are some of the best ways to add spice to your training.  Now, we must make clear that we are talking about friendly in-class competitions or self-paced competitions, not full-blown tournaments or sparring.  One of the ways that we can add competition to our training is through “Accuracy Races.”  Let’s say you are working on your roundhouse kick and trying to improve you height without giving up form.  You can say that every time you do not hit the target correctly – with proper form – you will do ten push ups. You need to be honest here, you know what is proper form and what is not and judge yourself accordingly.  If you do not know, ask questions or use a video small video camera to record yourself over several kicks then watch to make sure you are doing it correctly.

Pattern is often a source of continued boredom during the Purple Belt Blues because we “feel” that we know the pattern and should not have to practice as much.  Tell yourself that for every mistake you make in the pattern, you will do 10 push ups.  Ten push ups may not sound like much but it will serve as a rude awakening to how well we really know the pattern.  YOu don’t have to use push ups either, it can be just about anything; front kick, squats, mountain climbers, or any other exercise or drill.

The goal with either of the above drills is to increase the quality of training as well as add some variety to that training.  It all does not have to be the same all the time.  As an instructor, I have found that competition, even very small ones, greatly enhance the student experience, at any level.  I have also seen students do these things and add smaller micro competitions between themselves.  Try it, have some fun and work hard.  Happy Training!

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Martial arts, Traditional Training


Tags: , , , , , ,