My fourth Dan grading

Massimo4thDanHaving started practicing kickboxing in 1981 I could say that my approach to grading has been quite relaxed.  Last Thursday, 21st Feb 2013, I finally passed my fourth Dan grading, a rank that many people achieve in their late twenties or early thirties and within 15 or so years of experience in one martial art.  To some extent I was never too rushed into the next rank: it surely is a good recognition of personal achievements but it doesn’t bring to the bearer any better martial skills. In my opinion a rank is just a title and a way of comparing your experience and achievements with others.  At the beginning of my experience I initially managed to skip a couple of ranks and qualified 3 Kyu (3 ranks from first Dan) within two years but it was not until 6 years later when I got my black belt I 1989.  In my experience of late while the first and second Dan grading are still very much based around one’s personal performance there is a substantial shift in expectations from the third Dan and above.

The examiner, represented by Neville Wray (pictured on the right) current vice president of Wako GB and one of the top ranked kickboxers in UK,  wants to see you running a class, the quality of your teaching and consequently the quality of student’s style, knowledge of technique and individual preparation.  To some extent it is quite natural to expect that a person ranked third rank or above would be running a club or at least a class so the quality of their technique, as well as their teaching abilities can be measured by how well their team performs.  In my case I was very pleased of having a nice and varied class of 36 people ranging between beginners with just a few weeks experience all the way to 4 black belt and 5 instructors.  I did run our usual warm up, then split the class in two groups; I run the advanced group while one of my instructors took care of the lowers grades and beginners.   During the first 40 minutes of techniques we displayed some combinations that are typical of the CARISMA curriculum, like fast double kicks with one leg, various applications of the axe kick and various situations of attack and defence.  I then switched group and demonstrated how I teach some of the most basic techniques and postures to beginners.  The whole class behaved, very much like in most classes but with a bit of extra discipline, like a single organism with people pausing and listening when I was explaining new techniques and then immediately performing the various combinations on my command.  Naville first congratulated with me privately mentioning how good the class he saw was.  He then announced to the class the successful result pointing out the quality of teaching and techniques he saw, how well everybody behaved and the fact that on a scale of 1 to 10 he would rank the technical skills at 11 🙂

I am very pleased of having finally reached my fourth Dan; it was particularly interesting to see my pictures tagged on Facebook receiving many congratulation comments and a large number of Likes from friends located all over the world.  I do not feel I am a much better martial artist then I was on Thurs morning… but it surely feels good 🙂 Now it’s time to start thinking fifth Dan.

A peculiar flaw in Tae Kwon Do practice

Tae Kwon Do – Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I recently attended the Varsity Tae Kwon Do match between Cambridge and Oxford University.  I noticed, more than ever before, a very common flaw that was uniform across the 20+ bouts I watched.

There seem to be a total neglect toward guards while people are fighting.  In fact I had the impressons that fighters were in fact unaware that their arms could actually be kept in a convenient position to maximise guard and protection of their scoring areas while eventually blocking their opponent’s attacks.  Kicks were thrown without any attention about where the arms were and even when punching with one arm the other seemed to be totally forgotten that it existed.

Let’s face it it’s not easy to keep a decent guard while fighting; being a big fan of proper guards I spend more that 50% of my coaching time reminding people to keep their guard where it should be.   However yesterday I was seriously disappointed by the amount of scoring that Oxford managed to achieve by simply kicking unguarded torsos and faces.

Some Tae Kwon Do fights are full contact but likely not in this occasion; given the average skill I saw I believe it was mostly because of lack of performance and real power training.  If any of those scores, particularly to the face, were delivered with real power they would have needed some serious medical attention.

The kickboxing teach is very much based on kicks so I feel confident I could teach one thing or two to these young men and women if next year they perhaps want to actually beat Oxford.

Meeting a special reader

Writing this blog was an idea I had for quite some time before I actually started it.  Martialwhat.com was my first blog; it was the first WordPress based site I was building and it required quite a bit of effort, help from friends and hard work.  It is good having ideas for blog posts while you cannot write them but then the blog is up and running and ideas sometimes struggle to come or to crystallise into something that makes sense.  Writing anything that is publicly available means imposing to yourself some kind of discipline: style of writing and topics have to be consistent for the blog you are writing.

Fast forward 5 years and martialwhat.com is now a small authority in its field, receiving well over 1000 visitors per month; a small selections of articles are read many hundreds of times per month and keep receiving new comments.   I started this blog just to communicate to an audience I assumed it existed, share information and my personal opinions about martial arts and how they should be trained and lived.  Many readers read and move on, some of them leave comments or link my blog to theirs when it’s appropriate and applicable but one went a bit further than that.

Catherine Samson, source: her website; picture credit: Lucy Cavender

A few months ago I received an Email from one of my readers, Catherine Samson, a British fiction writer based in Beijing China.  Catherine described my blog as an interesting source of information about martial arts which is useful for her next project a new book where the main character is a young woman, kick boxer, based in the city of Naples, Italy.  She also mentioned she would have been in the UK just before Christmas 2012 and would have liked to visit my club, watch a lesson and spend some time with me to ask a few questions.  I was happy for the enquiry and we agreed a mutually convenient date to meet.  It all happened on a Sunday night: lessons run on this day between 5 and 7pm.  When I arrived at 5 Catherine was already waiting for me, so we briefly introduced in person for the first time, I started and run my two hours lesson while she watched and took lots of notes.  At the end we went to a nearby restaurant and, in front of a nice meal, she asked various questions about things she saw and others that she read and required a bit of history or background.

This short meeting with Catherine was what I like to think beginning of a nice collaboration: she obviously wants to be accurate about martial arts bits and bobs she will be writing in her book and I am more than happy to help her with information that is probably available on line but some times so scattered that it might be difficult to be aggregated in a meaningful way.