Guest Post: How to be a Martial Arts Leader Without a Black Belt

different belts

Hey Little Black Belt readers! I want to share some thoughts and tips on martial arts and leadership. You might think leadership is only reserved for black belts, but your leadership training actually begins the first time you step onto the mat. Check out my latest guest blog post from BookMartialArts.com to learn more:

How to be a Martial Arts Leader Without a Black Belt

Looking for something fun to add to your martial arts repertoire? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

So…I Stopped Eating Meat

funny-picture-vegetarian-because-i-hate-vegetables

I haven’t eaten meat for the past three months…well, six months, really, but with a caveat. I stopped eating meat on September 12, 2016. Exactly two months later I made an exception for a gyro, pastitsio, and souvlaki at the local Greek food festival and later meatloaf for dinner. Worth it. Gyros, you guys, come on, gyros. Then I went right back to not eating meat. I had a little bit of meat over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and when I got on the plane to fly back home after the holidays I was done.

Before I move on, let me just do my instructor and other Texas friends favor and yell “HIPPIE!” Yes, yes, I know. I am a hippie.

Going vegetarian was not difficult for me. I’ve done it before, and even during periods when I ate meat, I rarely ate it every day. It’s not so much that I’m giving up meat (and most of the time dairy, but I’m still hanging on to my local farmer’s market eggs), but rather, I’m taking the opportunity to eat a boatload of vegetables and fruits plus keep up the good work with whole grains and nuts. I’m much more likely to make vegetables the star of the meal when meat isn’t an option.

Meat and I just don’t work well together. It tastes good, and I’m daydreaming about a gyro right now as I write this, but it’s not nice to me, especially beef. One year I spent a week with my then-boyfriend’s family at Christmas. While his parents were fabulous cooks, nearly all the meals were centered around their hearty Bolivian diet of beef, white rice, potatoes, and thick bread. By the end of the week I felt very sick, heavy, and unable to digest anything. I felt awful. The starchy carbs didn’t help, but I knew it was the beef that was doing a number on my digestive tract. I’d never craved green vegetables so much in my life.

Sometimes I can’t even get meat down into my unhappy digestive tract. Just about every time I eat beef, chicken, or pork, no matter how tender it is or how tiny of a bite I take, it gets caught in my throat. I’d rather not be strangled by my own food. (How ironic would it be if I choked on a baby octopus?) Plus—and this is a big reason—I’ve seen and read way too much about factory farming and slaughterhouses to in good conscious continue eating meat from nationwide producers. And I still occasionally eat dairy and eggs and own several leather accessories and pieces of furniture so I’m not going to pretend to be absolved of being involved in this process. I do what I can even though it’s minimal. My blog is not my political platform, so I’ll leave it at that. You can learn more on your own if you choose.

I can hear you asking: But you still eat fish, right? NOPE. I hate the taste and smell of fish and never eat it anyway, plus I’m allergic to shellfish, so giving that up was a non-issue. I don’t get people who claim to be vegetarian but proclaim they still eat fish. It’s from an animal, therefore it’s meat nor do I understand that question when I say I follow a vegetarian diet. My brother and I used to argue with our Catholic Sunday school teachers that eating fish on non-meat days didn’t make sense. Have you ever seen a fish gutted and cleaned alive? I’ve seen plenty, and the fish are PISSED. It’s an animal, duh! I guess if I wanted to do penance I’d choke down some fish because I hate it so much. Forgive me, Father for I have sinned, let me just skip the Hail Marys, hold my nose, and eat this disgusting packet of tuna so I can be absolved of my sins…

I feel good! I’ve lost nearly 10 pounds over the past few months. Some of that was due to some unexplained stomach problems, but I think not going to Arby’s and Jack in the Box and eating more fruits and vegetables helped.

But where do I get my protein? I get plenty of protein; I’m just fine. Animal products are not the only source of protein. I still eat eggs, plus avocado, nuts, tofu (to the point that I actually crave it, mmmm!), beans, lentils, almond or coconut milk, seeds, and of course, God’s gift to humanity, peanut butter. More plant-based food sources than you think have protein such as quinoa, steel cut oats, leafy greens, and broccoli…yes, really!

So what DO I eat? More like what DON’T I eat! I eat just about anything other than meat of course, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and eggs and cheese on occasion (and chocolate…and alcohol). I’m not vegan although my diet ends up being vegan many days. I have plenty of energy for the taekwondo classes I attend 4-6 days a week. And I don’t care what some of these purist fat-phobic hippies in the vegetarian/vegan world say, I’m not giving up olive oil. Not because it’s a source of healthy fat but because I’m ¼ Italian and cook everything with it. I can’t give up olive oil now, not while a picture of my Nonon is glaring at me from my living room mantelpiece.

I try to stay away from refined carbs and processed foods, although I have to have a little bit of the junk poison from time to time…okay, sometimes more than a little bit. I once knew a “vegetarian” who only ate mac & cheese and cheese pizzas so it is possible to avoid meat and still have a very unhealthy diet, but I haven’t quite fallen that low yet…well….Uh…I had a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner Sunday night and okay, so I had a grilled cheese sandwich and fries Monday night, but that was after a REALLY hardcore taekwondo workout, shut up, whatever! (Sigh) Was it vegetarian? Yes. Was it full of helpful nutrients? NOPE. Will I eat that stuff on the regular? Nah, probably not. I did put fresh raspberries in my cereal and used an almond/coconut milk blend. That should count for something, right?

During my little meat-eating holiday interlude did I my mother’s delicious Thanksgiving stuffing made with Italian sausage? OH HELL YES. Did I eat her Christmas Beef Wellington? F-ckin’ A, you know I did, and I even took on the job of wrapping the tenderloin pieces in puff pastry. If I go to someone’s house and they make a special meal just for me that includes meat, will I eat it? Yes, I probably will to be polite although I’ll be piling on the veggie side dishes. But 95% of the time I’ll pass on the meat and load up on plants. But then there’s this BBQ place I’ve been stalking for a while. As a Texan it’s my duty to try it out…maybe on my birthday. Just one time.

So what did I eat today? I had egg and veggie tacos for breakfast with some raspberries on the side, brown rice/quinoa pasta with homemade marinara for lunch plus a clementine, and Thai vegetables and tofu with brown rice for dinner and a big fat juicy navel orange afterwards. Yummy and satisfying! (And a tad more healthy than sugary cereal and fries)

Should you go vegetarian? That’s entirely up to you. If you’re into fitness and want to explore a vegetarian diet a good blog to check out for tips is No Meat Athlete by Matt Frazier. Frankly I don’t care what anyone else eats so I’m not going to judge anyone for eating meat. Like sexual orientation, reproductive choices, and religion, what other people eat is none of my business. I just know this works well for me. If you’re looking for something to shake up your diet and help you eat healthier, then consider joining me on the green side and giving a plant-based diet a try.

Guest Post: The Best Sports to Complement Your Martial Arts Training

running on the beach

Hey Little Black Belt readers! Do you want to supplement your martial arts training with another sport or activity? Check out my latest guest blog post from BookMartialArts.com:

The Best Sports to Complement Your Martial Arts Training

Looking for something fun to add to your martial arts repertoire? Why not sign up for an affordable martial arts training camp? From Taekwondo to Krav Maga, BookMartialArts.com has camps on various types of martial arts disciplines to choose from!

Finding Fresh Ways to Learn…Or, I Geek Out at a Forms Seminar

get-excited-and-start-learning

This past weekend I attended a poomsae (forms) referee seminar sponsored by USA Taekonwdo, the national governing body for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and is a member of the World Taekwondo Federation. I’m not really interested in judging or refereeing at tournaments, but since forms are one of my favorite aspects of practicing taekwondo, I was curious enough to sign up.

I figured it would be good to know what judges were looking for so I could prepare our students (and myself) to compete in forms at the next tournament and just improve our daily practice in the dojang. Plus I get a little tired of always being on the facilitator side of training, so once in a while I like to be a participant and learn something new.

Oh my, the math and the details! I knew when we were handed a sample of the official scoring sheet that our brains were going to be spinning. We discussed accuracy and presentation (and the sub-categories of each), major deductions versus minor deductions, disqualifications, and rules for recognized forms versus freestyle forms. I didn’t realize how much and quickly forms judges need to react, calculate, and recalculate all within about a minute of a competitor performing a form.

The fun part began when the instructor began demonstrating details (both mistakes and what judges want to see) of kicks, blocks, strikes, and stances. “Is that a major or minor mistake?” he’d frequently ask. As the morning went on our answers were more confident, and we’d nod and smile in recognition. He then began performing combinations of forms and asked us to critique through the lenses of accuracy and presentation.

While the instructor used Taegeuk forms for most of the examples, which I am not familiar with (we practice the older, more traditional Palgwe forms at my dojang), he did make several references to the black belt forms Koryo and Keumgang, so I had light bulbs exploding over my head during those moments…if anyone saw me nodding and whispering “Ah-haaaa” while scribbling down notes it was probably during the Keumgang examples.

Did I not have a clue about accuracy or presentation during the Taegeuk combinations? Of course not. It turns out that technique is technique is technique, which I suspected all along. It’s not like the Taegeuk forms have completely different movements. A low block is a low block no matter where it falls in the form. Alignment, accuracy, tempo and rhythm, power…those are key elements we teach as well with our Palgwe forms.

And lest anyone think I’m cheating on my own home dojang instructors, I still defer to their teaching methods when I’m practicing my own forms or coaching another student. However, it’s nice to get an outsider’s perspective once in a while, even when I disagreed on some of the finer details. For a poomsae nerd like me, talking about nothing but forms for four hours was heaven.

Now to truly prove that one can use transferrable knowledge to a new situation (meaning, I can perform and judge a form blindly) I probably should have stayed for the second part of the day when the class was going to perform several Taegeuk forms. Technique is technique, right? I should just be able to learn and perform the form on the spot since I’m supposedly good at forms and pay a lot of attention to detail, right?

Well…yeah…but I opted out, mostly because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time since I’d just slow down the process (everyone else knew the forms). I also knew my Koryo and Keumgang were different enough stylistically that I’d stand out if we did the black belt forms, and I happen to prefer my ways of doing Koryo and Keumgang. And…well…I had company coming that afternoon and figured opening a fresh bottle of wine would be a better use of my time.

I thanked the instructor, told him the lecture and demonstration portion was fabulous, and assured him that I could apply everything I learned that morning back in my home dojang. The seminar inspired me to refine my own forms practice even more, and it gave me some language and talking points to use when I give feedback to other students.

The moral of the story: seek out continuing education in whatever it is you love to do whether you’re feeling stale, looking for a new perspective, wanting to learn a new skill, or simply want to enhance and revitalize your practice.

Guest Writer: Should Adults Begin Martial Arts? (I bet you can guess the answer)

BJJ white belts

Hello Little Black Belt readers! Have you always wanted to try martial arts but feel like life keeps getting in the way? Do you feel like you’re too old or out of shape or just plain busy? Or are you like me, who did a martial art as a kid and never though you’d return to it?  

Now is the time to start, and I have a treat for you! I’d like to welcome my second guest writer Richard to the blog. Richard runs the fantastic BJJ and MMA blog Attack the Back and shares his thoughts on what it’s like to start a martial art as an adult and the benefits he has experienced. Enjoy!

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When people think about martial arts, they normally think of a few things, poorly dubbed kung-fu movies and a class full of children shouting “KAI.” But not everyone who does martial arts started off as a child. My story is a little bit different. I am a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and for those who don’t know the belt system in BJJ it’s a follows:

White
Blue
Purple
Brown
Black

Not many belts huh… The thing is it’s not about the amount of belts, it’s about how long it can take to get to each BJJ belt. Like I said, I’m a blue belt, but BJJ has been a big part of my life for around 6 years now. I train on average 3 times a week, and while my journey is a little slower than some, it takes around 10-15 years to get your black belt, most people can go to university and become a qualified doctor in the same time.

Anyway, that is a little background story, what may surprise you about me is that I started my martial arts journey in September 2010 at the ripe age of 24. Which maybe surprising for some, not a lot of people decide to take up a martial art so late. My story may sound familiar to a lot of people. I was stuck in an unfulfilling 9 to 5 job, I was working my job, coming home, having tea, going on the computer/watching TV, going to bed, wake up, rinse & repeat.

I needed something more in my life. I had an interest in MMA and used to watch it in University in the evenings (but I didn’t want to get hit in the face.) I remembered my friend used to harp on about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; in fact that friend is now a black belt and runs his own academy, so I got in touch and decided to give it a shot.

And that’s where my life changed and Jiu-jitsu became my obsession. I gained more confidence in my day-to-day life, partying and going out become a low priority (why spend money on booze when you can train?), and overall I felt healthier.

Should adults start martial arts?

So if you were reading this and were thinking about starting a new martial art or sport, then I would recommend that you at least give it a go. You may find something you love, you may not. What I do suggest is that if you’re looking to lose weight, get healthier, and fitter, find something that you love doing that’s active. That way anything lifestyle choices are done because of your new hobby, not because you’re forced into it. For me Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was a new lease of life, which is why I started my blog Attack The Back, to give back to the community. So what are you waiting for? Have a go, it maybe the best decision you ever made.

Channeling Your Power: When Brute Force Just Doesn’t Cut It

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A tall, blonde 17-year-old boy stood at attention near the back of the training area as I gave him some feedback and pointers on his form. He and his three siblings, all blue belt/red tips, were practicing the form Palgwe Yuk Jang in preparation for an upcoming  tournament.

“You have a lot of power, and that’s good,” I began. “This is a short form, but it’s expressive and strong so you need that power…there is, however, such a thing as too much power, or maybe the better word is force. Does that make sense?” He nodded.

This kid has plenty of force. He can beat the hell out of a punching bag and a sparring opponent. His flying side kick and his 360 roundhouse kick are impressive and strong. He’s a big kid, but he can be graceful in certain moments whether it’s intentional or not. So far I’d seen more on the forceful side rather than focused energy.

“When you just rely just on force that’s uncontrolled it can be loose and inaccurate,” I continued, demonstrating a floppy punch, exaggerating the torque with my shoulder. “Punch from the belt rather than the shoulder and add that twist right at the end. That puts it dead in the center and hits a softer target, plus you protect your ribs.”

“Also, your snap kick will be a lot stronger if you pop it from the knee rather than slinging it forward, which can mess up your balance.” I hiked my right knee up towards my chest and shot out a front snap kick toward an imaginary opponent’s torso. I bent my leg again and landed softly into a solid front stance.

“Channel your power, and that will make a big difference.” I smiled at him.

“Yes, ma’am.” He smiled back, and we bowed to each other before he trotted back to join his brothers and sister.

His sister, meanwhile, needed to use a bit more power (or force). Palgwe Yuk Jang is a beautiful form, and she made it look pretty, but there was no edge.

“Think about it. Every single move you make, whether it’s a block, kick, or strike, is making impact with someone else’s body,” I said to her, snapping my arms into a double knife hand high block. “You should feel like you’re hitting someone Every. Single. Time.” She and her brothers nodded thoughtfully and tried out a few blocks on their own.

Power is a funny, fickle thing. Too much of it can lead to abuse and tyranny. Too little of it can leave one too vulnerable and at risk for loss. We all have power or at least potential for power, although it may not be evident in the same ways. Some people make more money, have more people reporting to them, have more physical strength, or may have other talents and skills. That doesn’t mean those without those superficial markers can’t be powerful. It also doesn’t mean that those who are “blessed” with those advantages know how to channel their power to the best of their abilities.

Once in a while brute force is a good thing. If I’m trapped in a burning car there better damn sure be someone using brute force to rescue me. The poor movers who had to lug heavy furniture up my steep and precarious stairs used every ounce of brute force they had (for which they were well tipped). I wish I had more pure brute force when fighting people larger than me, but since I don’t, I’ve had to learn to channel my power in more concentrated ways.

Sometimes brute force just doesn’t cut it, at least not in the long term. It doesn’t have to just be physical force that some people misuse. People forcefully brutalize others emotionally, mentally, even financially (think Bernie Madoff). Eventually, though, bullies and abusers are exposed. People stand up to them, or through their own hubris, stupidity, and unchecked power, they create their own downfall.

What is your source of power? What is your strength? Is it loose and inaccurate, or is it controlled, concentrated, and calculated? Being more mindful of your own power AND how to use it (for good, not evil, folks) can help you hit your target more accurately over time. Maybe your target is a sparring opponent. Maybe it’s a college degree or a raise at work. Maybe it’s improving your cooking skills or learning a musical instrument. Maybe it is overcoming emotional struggles.

Whatever that target is, channel your power, aim, and fire!

Guest Writer: How to Turn the Great Outdoors into a Martial Arts Ground

Hello Little Black Belt readers! I’d like to introduce my very first guest writer, Diamond from the health and wellness website eHealthInformer. Enjoy!

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Some of the most influential martial artists preach that no matter what form you practice, you can take it anywhere with you. Martial arts are about physical and mental health, radiating balance and positivity throughout the student’s life. This opens up a huge amount of opportunity for the martial artist, as it means they can and should practice anywhere they please. Ideas such as this also help students to reinvigorate their love for martial arts, as repetition and constantly similar surroundings can cause boredom that leads to bad form and concentration levels.

Martial arts can’t be confined to a dojang or studio. They can certainly be taught and practiced there, but it’s a lifestyle choice, not a hobby. Now we’re going to explore the possibilities and opportunities for how you can turn the great outdoors into a martial arts ground.

Use Your Imagination

When you put your mind to it, almost any environment can be transformed into an area to practice martial arts. Whether you’re in a forest or a field, it doesn’t matter; nature has everything you need to master certain elements of your chosen style. Fulfilling an exercise routine using what you have around you in nature can be a fun and educational experience. Try using strong tree branches for pull ups or utilizing the exercise equipment at your local park.

Also, many teachers advise students to use meditation as a part of their daily routine. Why not meditate in an undisturbed, peaceful environment, such as near a lake or on a hilltop? Get creative with your local area and see what ideas you can come up with.

If you’re already outside in the wilderness and are finding it difficult to use your imagination, you can scan YouTube and the rest of the internet for ideas, as there are many martial arts based exercises, drills and meditation techniques you can learn from the platform.

Be Safe

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Nobody wants to be a spoilsport, but it is worth mentioning that the risks and dangers of injuring yourself in an unsecured environment are higher than in the dojo. Without safety mats and your Sifu, Sensei, or Sabumnim (depending on your chosen style) present, you must take precautions and be realistic as to what you take outside of your regular studio sessions.

Also, understand the laws in your area. If you aren’t allowed to take certain weaponry out into the open (especially without the correct licensing), you could be arrested or have your equipment confiscated.

In the spirit of safety, it’s worth mentioning that if you do choose to use YouTube while outside to learn exercises and drills, you’ll be vulnerable to hackers. It is worth hiding your IP address so that your information is secure and can’t be stolen.

Embracing the Unknown

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Practicing your martial arts outside is beneficial for many reasons, one of which is conditioning the body to react with accuracy in all types of weather. The outside training ground gives us a unique and unpredictable area to practice in, which heightens our senses and spatial awareness. Also, the predictability of the environment in a dojang is obvious to most students, since the temperature, ground condition and personal space is so familiar.

In the outdoors, the ground may be uneven, the temperature is constantly changing, and who knows what will enter our personal space. We can put ourselves in situations that test our abilities to the next level outdoors, as there’s a wide range of circumstances and environments to explore.

Nature gives us a new dimension to experience when practicing martial arts outside. Hearing wildlife, water and the sounds of your surroundings induces a sense of connection and wonder into your immediate location. You might find yourself conjuring up images of Kwai Chang Caine from the legendary series “Kung Fu.” However, don’t let this take away the seriousness of the practice. The fact that you’re learning a way of life that will protect you and give you a sense of balance and health in life means a great deal.

Have any tips or experiences for training outdoors with martial arts? Please leave us a comment in the section below.

About the Author: Diamond is a martial arts practitioner who enjoys spreading the lifestyle and its many benefits through blogging. She also likes to practice in all environments and believes that the “dojo” is taken with the student wherever they go. Check out more of her articles on fitness, healthcare, nutrition, and technology at eHealthInformer.com.