Becoming an intermediate student means you’ve put in some time on the training floor, learned some skills and are getting ready to go for your first sash (orange). It also means that you’re no longer a beginner. In fact, you are now expected to set an example for the beginners. This means always wearing your uniform, being prepared to teach other students what you have learned and putting out a level of energy commensurate with your new rank. For male students, it also means wearing a groin protector to all classes.
You’ll find that all ranks come with privileges and responsibilities. The ranking system creates a hierarchy that helps keep the school running. For example, anytime two students salute in, it is the senior student who should be doing the drill first. The idea here is that the senior student should have more knowledge and thus set the pace for how things are going to go. Sometimes it will happen that the junior student knows the drill and the senior doesn’t. In that case, the junior student should start things off.
The rank order in Mo Duk Pai is:
Red Sash/Black Belt (1st through 9th degree)
If you have any questions about the hows and whys of the rank system, ask!
By doing your 18 minute and being promoted to Intermediate, you’ve already got a taste of how challenging training can be. Simply put: that’s the point. The Academy and the System are here to make quality martial artists. That only happens through challenge.
Sometimes the challenges in training that you will encounter are deliberate. Testing is a great example of this. It is an event designed to see if you have improved your skill set - to see if you are moving forward as a martial artist.
Other times the challenges you will encounter in training are accidental. Injuries are an example of this. You twist an ankle or sprain a wrist. While these kinds of challenges are not as overtly exciting as getting rank, they can be excellent opportunities to grow as a martial artist. For example, if you only ever kick with your right leg and you’ve pulled your right hamstring, suddenly you’ve got a compelling reason to learn how to kick with your left.
The toughest kinds challenges are when life on the training floor and life outside the training floor come into conflict. You get busy at work and find it hard to come to class. You train so much your friends forget who you are. Whatever the challenge, embrace it as an opportunity to prioritize your time. How do you want to grow as a person and a martial artist?
To restate: being challenged in order to grow is the purpose of training. Challenge doesn’t mean grinding people down and it doesn’t mean everyone who shows up to class gets a sash - it means working hard to overcome difficulty.
3.3 Primary Targets
There are spots on the body that are more vulnerable than others. Poking someone in the eye garners a bigger response than poking them in the shoulder. If you want to deal efficiently with a self defense situation, it is important to know what targets will produce the most effect. It’s equally as important to pick targets that are readily identifiable and available. It doesn’t make sense to try and punch a seven foot tall man in the temple if you’re five feet tall. It doesn’t help you to know the liver is a great place to hit someone if you can’t recall which side of the body it is on.
Keeping all that in mind, here are five easily identifiable targets that when struck properly, should cause damage to an opponent of any size:
Eyes, Ears, Temple, Groin and Knees.
Are there other targets? Absolutely, these five are only a starting point. Practice street stages with a partner and look for other targets. Practice four count street and see what comes up. Study anatomy and look for targeting ideas. Remember that every partner is different and you might have to adjust your targets because of their size.
Often control gets confused with no contact or going slow. While going slow and not making contact are a form of control, broadly speaking control is the act of setting a goal and meeting it. Thus if the goal is to throw a ball quickly through a hoop and you succeed at doing so, you have good control.
In training, control is important because we can’t always train at fast speed or with full contact - it would quickly make us unable to train. Thus, all drills have a safety valve in them. Usually, this safety valve involves reduced speed and/or reduced contact. If the drill is at full speed then the safety valve is often a limitation of targets and/or allowed techniques. As an example, consider the difference between the rules (safety values) of boxing versus the lack of rules in a self defense situation.
Control means following the rules of the drill. When both partners have good control, then the drill becomes a game-like environment where they can both play and learn. When one partner has poor control, it becomes difficult to tell what is really working and what is the result of speeding up, hitting too hard, hitting illegal targets, etc. When both partners have poor control, things are likely to escalate.
Practice techniques slow. Practice techniques fast. Practice going 1 inch away from the heavy bag. Practice blasting the heavy bag at full power. Be humble and willing to let drills go where they may, rather than letting the desire to win or your ego take over.
3.5 Weapon Work
We train weapons at the Academy to develop familiarity and competency so if weapons arise in a self defense scenario it is not a surprise. Frequently, the “bad guys” carry knives, guns and/or clubs. If all we only train against empty handed techniques, we are doing ourselves a disservice in terms of practicality.
Many of the weapons drills you will be introduced to early in your training are in the curriculum to help build your comfort level in terms of handling weapons and having weapons come at you - in the same way that the drill of harmony sparring is designed to help you gain courage in the face of incoming kicks and punches.
When you handle weapons on the floor, treat them as if they are “live” - meaning you should treat even the dullest of training knives as if it were razor sharp. Do not casually throw knives to your training partners. The hope is that this sense of gravity will follow you into self defense scenarios. When someone pulls a knife or club, it is a whole different game than when they raise a fist.
3.6 Sport and Demonstration
It is difficult to encounter a martial artist who does not have an opinion one way or another about the value (or lack thereof) of participating in the sportside of the arts. Sport martial arts events include: sparring tournaments, grappling tournaments, judo tournaments, forms tournaments, etc.
Some martial arts are structured exclusively around sport. Others avoid it like the plague. As with many things, we at Mo Duk Pai take the middle road. There is much to learn from sparring at a Tae Kwon Do tournament. There is lots to absorb from rolling in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament. We encourage all students to participate in this element of the art as they see fit. Some students like it, others don’t.
The risk of being too sport oriented is that one may forget that self defense and sport are not the same thing. In sport, there are rules. In self defense, there are no rules. In sport, there is a designated start and end to a match. In self defense the defender is often not aware when the situation begins, as the attacker often uses surprise during the initial attack. In sport, there is a referee who can stop the match if things become unsafe. In self defense, there is no referee.
Still, even with all these caveats, sport is our chance as martial artists to try out what we have learned and see if it works. Some lessons in sport transfer beautifully to street. Others don’t. Keep in mind the differences and similarities.
It’s tempting for many students who love the sport aspect of the art to go overboard with it. Don’t. Keep a balance in your training. Practice your street. The opposite is also sometimes true: there are those students who scoff at sport and love only the street aspect. Seek balance by trying to appreciate the growth that can come with the friendly competition that sport inspires. Practice your sparring and grappling.
Testing should be just another day of training.
If you have been training regularly (minimum of 2 times a week), have completed all your requirements for your next rank and have been working on what your teacher has asked you to work on - then the day of testing is simply a matter of showing up and doing what you already know how to do.
If you didn’t make the testing list and you feel you should have - keep working. Training is a long haul process. Everyone moves forward at their own speed. If you still feel slighted, then ask yourself three questions: 1. Have you been attending class regularly? 2. Are you rock solid on all your requirements for your next rank? 3. What other concepts has your teacher been giving you to work on? That should answer most questions but if it doesn’t, try asking someone who has already gotten the rank you’re going for what it took for them to achieve that rank... and then, keep working. Kung Fu is hard work over time.
If you did make the testing list, make sure you set up a time to take the written test with your teacher. Make sure you pay the testing fee before test time. Since you made the list, that means your teacher thinks you’re ready. You’ve worked hard in class. Show what you’ve learned. Don’t leave anything in reserve. Put everything you’ve got into the test, just as you would a class. Tests are easy if you train like you want to test and then test like you have trained.
Regardless of the result of the test (pass, half rank or no pass), you and your teacher will both be given feedback. There is always more work to be done.
3.8 Critical Distance (Fighting Principle #3)
Before every boxing match begins, the announcer goes over both fighter’s statistics. One of the things that gets listed is reach - the distance from the fighter’s armpit to the end of their glove. It is a measurement of limb length.
A distance that is much more difficult to measure is: at what distance can that same boxer effectively deliver a knockout shot from? Is it as long as their arm or are their punches ineffective at the end of their reach? What if they take a step as they fire a punch?
To make things even more complicated, what if (as in the game of kickboxing) the fighter is allowed to kick? At what distance can they deliver an effective strike? What if they are wielding a stick? Now what range are they effective up to?
The critical distance line is the maximum distance that your partner can be away from you and deliver an effective (damaging) strike. It is dependent on size, skill, speed, courage and a myriad of other factors.
3.9 Extension (Fighting Principle #4)
How far can you reach out your arm for a punch? That is extension. How big or small do you look when you do your forms? That is extension. How far away can someone be from you and you can still clearly communicate with them verbally? That is extension.
There are ways to increase or decrease extension. If you wanted to punch further, you could take a step as you did so and/or lean your body forward. If you wanted to shorten your punch you could stop your elbow from bending all the way at the end of the strike.
There are reasons to increase or decrease extension. If you are practicing your form in a cramped hotel room, you might shorten your steps, stances and strikes so as to not break any furniture. If you are showing your form at a tournament, you might increase your extension so that what you are doing is more visible to the judges.
You might alter what you are doing entirely to increase or decrease your extension. If you want to talk to your friend across a room at incredibly loud concert, you might use sign language instead of the spoken word. If you want to want to say hello to a friend in another country, you'd probably be better served sending an email rather than shouting.
Your extension is your reach.
3.10 Bridging the Gap (Fighting Principle #5)
The central dilemma of a tournament sparring match is how to cross the distance between the two of you, hit your partner and not get hit yourself. This puzzle is the essence of the fighting principle bridging the gap.
This same conundrum will crop up in many of the drills that we do. How do you get in close against your partner when they have a stick and you don't? How do you get in to throw someone without them smacking you with a knee kick?
Focusing on bridging the gap means allowing yourself to play and instead of getting upset or proud about the results of your experiment, simply taking note of it. Often the toughest part of bridging the gap is summoning the courage up to do so. As with everything, good partners whose control you can trust are key. Take risks, bridge the gap and see what works.
3.11 Lead vs. Rear (Fighting Principle #6)
Most fighting stances will have a lead and a rear foot. Often, students will naturally choose their dominant side as the rear side. This is because when striking, they will be able to deliver more power with the rear side.
As an example of a rear side action, watch a baseball pitcher. When throwing, they will step out one foot and throw with the opposite hand. This gives them much more power than if they were to throw from a normal stance or to throw with the lead side hand. The rear side can take full advantage of twisting the hips and getting the whole body into the action.
As an example of a lead side action, watch a fencer. When playing, they always keep the blade in their lead hand. There is no reason for power in the game of fencing because all you need to do is touch your partner with the blade. Thus, when speed is more important than power, the lead hand becomes the preferred hand.
In addition to creating a speed side (lead) and a power side (rear), having a stance that has a lead and rear side limits the easily available targets for a partner. To experiment with this, simply have a partner throw light punches at you while you stand (and try and block) from a normal stance and then from a lead.
(If you notice any spelling errors, grammar mistakes or have any questions regarding the training manual, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)