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Just starting out in martial arts? Before you make the same mistakes I did, you’ve got to read this!

 

Whether it’s Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, Kali, or any other method of training it’s imperative that you get off to a good start. In this article I’m going to cover some tell tale signs to look for to find good training, just in case you don’t happen to be anywhere near RCW in Tigard and the Portland Area. Maybe you even live near us in Lake Oswego, but you’re already training elsewhere, I hope this information will help you prevent the same kind of mistakes I made along my continuing 30 year journey of martial arts.

First and foremost, how to identify if the coach knows what they’re doing.

I’ll give a couple examples but this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. I wish it was, but good martial arts is a rare find. It’s like discovering a world class musician, painter, auto mechanic, chef, or carpenter. You can relate to their craft, probably enjoy it, but replicating it at that moment is an impossible task. Let alone understanding all he tools and nuances of that trade.

Martial Arts is NOT an activity in the same way people pick up other physical hobbies. There’s such a vast difference between an aerobic boxing class and boxing as a professional sport they’re not remotely the same thing. Most of us understand that doing Tae Bo doesn’t mean we’re learning real boxing and self defense. The problem comes into finer detail when they’re eerily similar but different. Have you ever hired a contractor to work on your house and took the lowest bid? Only to find shoddy workmanship later, and hired another professional to come back and fix those mistakes. It’s because during the bidding process they seemed so similar the price was viewed as the major deciding factor.

Anything look different?

Rickson Gracie knows what he’s doing, notice he and the team behind him do NOT have cauliflower ear!

Watch the instructor closely, watch the students even more.

A good instructor will be able to relate key details to their students and pass on the knowledge to create numerous copies of their work. Do the senior students exhibit these same qualities? Look to see if these long term students (there should be some!) can perform the technique of the day easily, coach beginners on how to do it, AND make it work in live drills or sparring with resistance. The instructor should be able to perform the movement even if they’re into their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. They should make it look effortless and relate the concepts contained in the idea presented. At RCW currently our head coaches are just entering their 40’s and have been training for more than 20 years. We would never ask a student to do something we haven’t done ourselves and often we can demonstrate it on the spot.

A good instructor should NOT have to be rough to prove anything to you!

People who are qualified know how to train. That means they can prepare people for competition without injuring them in the process. I have been privileged to train with some of the best in the world, and the better they were the safer the academy. Being hurt cuts your training short, you have to take time off, you lose training partners who are also out hurt, and being tough has little to no benefits! IT does NOT mean you never spar, or that the technique is not effective.

You should be able to FEEL the technique is effective and senior students should be able to handle beginners through skill, not by trying to be overly aggressive. This is another key area, where the natural inclination is that the harder people go at it the more “real” it must be. Nothing could be further from the truth. People like Rickson Gracie, Pedro Sauer, GSP, Bruce Lee, Anderson Silva, and countless other professionals all advocate training safely. Yet at the same time parring is alive elements of timing, pressure, control, and strategy that simulate reality.

What are their qualifications? Ask questions!

Are they offering Gracie Jiu Jitsu? Then they should be able to point to members of the Gracie family they’ve trained with. Jeet Kune Do, then surely they have some credential from Dan Inosanto or someone in the association. Be careful with quick photos, and paperwork on the wall, anyone can attend a seminar on a weekend and say they’re the next grandmaster. Funnily enough, across the board anyone I’ve met who’s qualified as a grandmaster NEVER wants to be called that! Your future instructor should have dedicated mentors who passed not the trade just like a head chef or an electrician. Who walked them along their path?

Go to the seminars and workshops!

At any good school, you should have the opportunity to work with the head instructor’s mentors. At RCW this year alone our students were offered the chance to work with Master Pedro Sauer of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Henry Akins a a student of Rickson Gracie, Greg Nelson, Ajarn Chai of Muay Thai, and Dan Inosanto of JKD and Kali fame. When you attend these workshops the material you’re covering should be the SAME. If you’re affiliated with Dan Inosanto and claim to practice Kali or Silat and attend the seminar and it’s nothing what you practice all year long, then your school is NOT following the program!

Only one of two things could be the case here, either your instructor is exposed to material and chooses to do his or her own thing back home. That usually means they think they’re own material is better but they are depriving you of what you’re paying for and after years of this they probably can’t perform the technique either! Secondly, they might not have ever been in the affiliation to begin with! Countless people SAY they do Gracie Jiu Jitsu but very few are actually connected to the family and the art. It’d be like getting hired at a fancy Italian restaurant with farm to table food and then they find out you’ve only worked at the Olive Garden. They’re similar on the most basic level but drastically different!

Don’t fall for extremism!

A quick glance on Youtube and you’ll find some top videos with literally MILLIONS of views, often provided by people who have ZERO experience in the advice they’re giving. Phony JKD representatives, bad Jiu Jitsu, and self defense technique that if you tried to use it in a real fight you might not even make it home. Worse still is I’ve seen schools adopt this attitude and start ramping up their vocal intensity as if it adds something to the movement. Sadly, people who lack confidence can view these people as knowledgeable and be quickly defrauded. That person might even believe, like a bad relationship, that their next instructor has to exhibit the same machismo all the time or it must not be authentic.

I cannot tell you how many former Krav Maga students, and even black belts, I’ve had come through RCW only to find out their intensity and material just doesn’t work. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but that is the sad fact. Many people don’t break free of the extremism paradigm and will fight to defend it. As recently as this week in November 2019 I had a recent transplant from Krav Maga in our adult classes. I came in to start the class and the young man was asking another coach “what if I do this, oh wait let me do it as hard as I can…I’ll try this now… ugh ugh!”

Our coach was barely responding and just asking what he was trying to do as this young man tried to throw him around every which way. Before we could deduce the intent, the man exclaimed, “are you serious! None of this stuff works, I wasted a year of my life for what? I thought I was learning something.” This young guy might not know it yet, but he’s in a field of one in ten or twenty who ever look deeper.

Van Damme is in shape, but it doesn’t mean he knows martial arts

I made all these mistakes and more…

That’s right, I’m speaking from personal experience. I hired the sub-contractor and was duped for years trying to find the gold standard for RCW. I was lied to by people who told me they had qualifications. I was lied to by people who told me they could give me qualifications. I too fell into the trap that if training was hardcore it must be genuine. There was even a would-be-mentor I worked with who I later discovered was basically running a small cult! The problem with getting hooked on horrible training is that it can be hard to tell the difference even after a couple years.  Once you’re drinking the Kool-Aid, the sensation of being trapped can take a tremendous mental will to break through.

I had to throw it all away

When I encountered my failure at finding genuine Gracie Jiu Jitsu and had to say “uncle” to Relson, I didn’t run from it. I knew I had found what I was looking for, I was in awe that this 60 plus year old man could wrap me up. He smiled ear to ear, he didn’t use any muscle, and I was playing what sounded like drum beats constantly tapping out. I could’ve blown it off, or called him a jerk, but I knew right then this was a real thing. I wanted that skill to use leverage and principle over muscle and aggression. If it worked for him, I hoped it would work for me and I left the MMA school for Gracie Jiu Jitsu and never regretted it for a moment.

 

TL:DR!

  1. It’s worse to train with horrible people than to not train at all
  2. Observe the instructor and other students
  3. Make them show you their credentials/who trained them?
  4. If advanced students can show efficacy while smiling, they probably have “it.”
  5. Attend workshops and compare your school to the material presented
  6. Being rough is not a sign of good training, it’s the opposite!
  7. Don’t be afraid to start over, it’s never too late!

 

 

 

Good luck out there! When I was a kid good training was hard to find because it was such a rarity. It’s still rare, but good training is now hard to find because there’s schools on every block. In the last 5 years almost as many schools have closed around RCW as have opened. The one thing you can’t get back is time, invest yourself and really find out where you should be training to get the results you want.

 

 

 

Rule #1: Always Talk About Fight Club

 

Ever since I was a kid in the 1980’s I’ve embraced martial arts. The decade prior was known for Kung Fu theater and hooked a broad range of fans on Bruce Lee with the likes of connoisseurs like Portland’s own Dan Halstead who owns and operates the wonderful Hollywood Theater. In the 80’s though, Martial Arts truly exploded thanks to source material  like the Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and countless more. It seemed like the runaway train Bruce Lee ignited in Enter The Dragon was going to last forever.

And then it didn’t. Something even more magical happened for the first time: The UFC. In the start of my childhood unbeknownst to me a movement had begun. In Torrence California one of Helio Gracie’s sons (of Gracie Jiu Jitsu fame) had begun to teach small nonexistent classes. By 1988 Rickson Gracie, who was undefeated around the world in over 150 matches, was teaching from his garage and begging people to come and train. Literally, him and his friends Pedro Sauer and Luis Heredia would plead with the mail man to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the first time. Nobody wanted to do it, rolling around on the floor wrestling into human pretzels and calling it chess? No thanks.

Bruce Lee (left) and Dan Inosanto (right)

Rule #2 “Adapt what is useful, reject was is useless, and add what is specifically your own” – Bruce Lee

In the UFC, pioneered by the Gracie family, there was something old world about pitting style against style. Prior to that people like Chuck Norris, Ed Parker, and Bruce Lee were committed to an ideology that martial arts doesn’t mix without sparring. This ran contrary to the countless martial art schools around town with non-contact “aura” sparring and lightning bolts embroidered on their pants. The UFC established and cemented the core ideas of Jeet Kune Do (JKD) were valid. A blend of standup based on Boxing and Kickboxing along with a high degree of grappling skill would create the most formidable opponents. Keep in mind that back in the fledgling days of the octagon there were far less rules, eye gouges, hits to the groin, kneeing a downed opponent, were all legal. The time limits for the matches could be as long as an hour with NO ROUNDS! It became quickly evident that movie like Kung Fu sequences were out, there’d be no successful Shaolin this-or-that on display. Personally I don’t think these systems are useless, there’s value in it somewhere, but over time they’ve walked away from their combative roots. Today we could see techniques from these methods return. They have to be able to be delivered from a kickboxing structure or a grappling posture.  With more than a century of documentation, and as we’ll talk about next, it’s the training method behind these arts that gives them their credence.

Rule #3 “Keep it playful” -Rener Gracie

It’s what Bruce Lee proposed, and what the Gracie’s accomplished: Everything has to be vetted through rigors testing. Built in to Boxing, Kickboxing (its’ many forms), JKD, and Gracie Jiu Jitsu is a constant pressure testing that occurs in sparring. Among them is a similar approach of regular sparring. After many people were disillusioned by the Rex Kwon Do’s of the world, wanting to bring home the UFC, another misnomer cropped it’s ugly head. I can’t decide if I like it more or less than non-contact sparring, but one of the fallacies of sparring these days is that it has to be a 100% all out death match.

It certainly bodes well that someone is willing to spar, but frankly full contact every day doesn’t do much except for toughen you up slightly and then it starts to chip away at your health. If you think of the top athletes in these sports like Paquiao, Mayweather, Bukaw (Thai Boxing), Damien Maia (UFC) or Kron Gracie they aren’t going into the gym and killing each other every day. There’s little to no value in this, just as there isn’t any in non-contact sparring. Like Rener Gracie said, keep it playful. Most of the time the intensity of our sparring only has to be hard enough to move our opponents balance. When boxing this means that your knuckles will make contact through the padding, and could displace the position of your partners head, but not cause a knock out or accumulate damage.

Rickson Gracie, Dan Inosanto, Jean Jaques Machado are all great at keeping it playful and all champions

If you want to train for longevity this is the best way to accomplish it. You need to have a sparring regimen that promotes playfulness and the ability to show up every day and mix it up. When you’re going full contact you get hurt, have to sit on the sidelines while you recover, and most importantly you don’t bring NEW concepts to your game because your fighting all out all the time. Anyone in Jiu Jitsu knows this, if you go 100% you can’t work on new techniques, only what you have right now in the fight. It’s good to test those limits, but it should be a rarity. In an 8-12 week training camp we’ll do hard full contact sparring a couple times and no later than 2 weeks prior to the event. That way if any injuries are sustained the fighter can recover before the day of the bout.

Tips on Sparring Smart and Training for Life:

Here’s a few things to start you off right and continue sparring throughout your journey

  1. BE a good partner
  2. FIND good partners
  3. Try to remain calm, breath in through your nose and out your mouth
  4. Look to refine technique, what are you doing in relation to the class exercises?
  5. Give yourself homework; one month improve your jab, next your defense, and on and on.
  6. Spar just hard enough to influence the balance of your partner
  7. Leave your ego at the door
  8. Don’t be a jerk
  9. Don’t spazz out
  10. Don’t coach people on their technique unless you’re their coach

 

Seriously, no really, leave your EGO at the door

It’s a big enough issue that I have to address it in more than one bullet point. Check your EGO, and there’s several types so you may not be aware of your own tendencies. First we’ll get the obvious out of the way, don’t try to flaunt what a badass you are with everyone. That’s a surefire way to alienate yourself from the school and put a target on your back. There is ALWAYS someone more skilled than you around the corner and if they see you beat the break pads off the 14 year old kid and brag about it they will end your days early. Plus, have some human decency. Most people aren’t like that, the EGO just pops up in different ways here and there. The biggest detriment being the “I’ve got to win” syndrome. You might also know it as “well I know I just started but I’ve got to be good right?” Nope. When you’re pride steps in the way and you feel like you’ve got to win you can slip into category 1 jerk right away. Even WORSE than that is you’ll start to rationalize and avoid sparring altogether because the ego just can’t take it.

There’s no other way around it, some call it paying your dues, I call it the price of progress. Remember we’re training in a playful manner if we have good partners. You’re not going to hurt me, bloody my nose, or bust my ribs, all that’s going to happen is I’ll have a little leather introduced to my face or maybe I say uncle on the BJJ mat. All those experiences are learning opportunities and once you realize there’s no consequence and nothing bad really happens you can embrace learning and growth.

This is the number one reason I see people spazz out and coach each other too. The spazz is looking for that one advantage to try and turn the tide, let’s go for a finger lock! (or some other cheap move) because they’re trying to over ride the fact their ego is telling them a big loss is incoming. If you’re out there every day sparring just remember you’re going to improve. This process will get easier all the time. Soon it’ll be one of your favorite activities in the gym and you’ll look forward to playing with your classmates in a competitive manner.

Lastly, the coaches-coach A.K.A Professor White Belt. Don’t over due any criticisms or critique during sparring unless you’re actually the Coach for that class. One it can come off as a know-it-all attitude and limit your sparring partners. You’re there to learn first and foremost, not be the greatest free advice coach in the world.  Learning should always be your primary goal.

On any given day a purple belt might beat a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. A white belt might dust a purple belt because they have a background in collegiate wrestling. Someone more athletic than you comes along, more awkward, whatever the case we have to respect the person across from us. I have seen people instruct others AFTER they have lost to them in sparring, “oh hey, you know you’re doing great but you could really beat me EVEN BETTER if you did…..” Sadly that’s the mark of the ego rearing its’ head again to try and save some sort of face from a situation with no consequences.

It can be easy to start a bad habit, and all it does is limit your own ability to learn and grow. Keep it playful and spar whenever you can with an easy going attitude and you’ll see remarkable gains. If you haven’t done any sparring, consider why your current school doesn’t have that as an activity? Maybe you’ve just been putting it off while developing foundations and that’s good too. When it’s time to jump in take it slow and find a great partner with a ton of experience. Let them know if you’re a little nervous and ask for some tips. They’ll be thrilled to help you because they went through the same process.

And remember, if a nerdy near sighted kid with asthma can get good at all this stuff, anybody can do it with the right training methods and the right amount of determination.

 

Thanks for reading!

-Professor Joe

 

 

In a visual world, why not put all your curriculum on You Tube?

We often get requests from students to make supplemental videos to training. We are definitely on the path and welcome that encouragement! Right now we’re exploring the best way to put curriculum online. Like some ancient culture our martial technology is precious to us. It also comes down to a level of respect and loyalty that we have for our instructors who shared the art with us. It’s not fair for us to see what they went through to attain this level of expertise and then give it all away online to the general public. Like Star Wars, incredible powers of self-defense and badassery that come with skills like Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Jeet June Do can be used for good or evil. Since thugs have access to the internet, we feel a little hesitation in a complete open source martial arts channel.

We’re gearing up to launch video content training soon!

Currently we’re researching platforms and organizing our content that will be released in the near future. It’ll happen! One day soon all our students, and even people around the world, can engage in the martial arts on display at RCW. For now at this crossroads we have a ton of stuff up on our Youtube channel. It’s a good mix of what you can expect from our classes and if you’ve been attending you’ll probably find some drills, techniques or at least fond memories from things we’ve explored together at RCW. If you want to head over to the channel just click.  —> The Tube <—

Nothing beats real human beings when it comes to learning a craft

The warriors in our tribe do the best they can to be generous and sharing with the material on offer. We feel as instructors that there are so many hurdles to training such as scheduling, health and wellness, family balance, and just learning a new skill that we NEVER put arbitrary golden carrots on a stick in front of students and start fishing. Have a question? We’ll answer it! Want to get better and improve? We’ll do our best to get you there! And if we don’t know the answer, we’ll bring in an expert who does. Trust us when we say we’ve seen quite the opposite, but RCW is always a stronger tribe when everyone is working and sharing together.

Here’s a small sample of our Jeet Kune Do and Kali class from a while back. This is the first of 3 core concepts for developing defense against a knife attack. Hope you enjoy and thanks for watching!!

 

Sincerely,

Guro Joe