5.1 Purple Sash

Congratulations on getting your purple sash.  The requirements for blue are pretty wide - throws, club work, strikes, kicks - there’s a lot on the list.  Most of the things on your new requirement list you’ll probably have been exposed to in class before but in going for your blue sash you’ll need to learn them thoroughly, not just in passing.

As a blue sash (start thinking of yourself that way, even though you’re still wearing a purple sash) you’ll need to not only know all the things on your checklist as disparate techniques that get performed in the air but you’ve got to be able to show how they work on a partner who is actively resisting your efforts to apply them.

In addition, you should be growing more comfortable with your teaching skills.  Make sure you know all the requirements for intermediate, orange and purple down pat so that when you are asked to teach them you can get to honing your teaching skills and helping your fellow student rather than having to fish through your memory for what the basic is.

Having earned a purple sash is no small feat.  Be proud of your hard work and acknowledge the time you have put in training and the sacrifices you’ve made to get where you are.  Keep going.  There’s lots more ahead... there always is.

5.2 Leading by Example

The more senior your rank, the more the junior students will look to you to see what the payoffs of training are.  That means if you train hard, they will assume that is the norm for senior ranking students and try to emulate that.  On the flipside, if your training is spotty, they will equate achieving rank with the opportunity to slack off and when they get rank, they will begin to emulate that.

Set the example.  Train hard.

This doesn’t mean that someone senior can’t “lose” to a junior sash.  There’s no shame in getting scored on by someone junior to you.  It happens.  Learn from the experience and adjust.  Don’t waste time worrying that you “lost” to someone of a lower rank.  Keep going.  Junior students will notice that you don’t spend time nursing your ego and they will follow suit.

Set the example.  Learn from your mistakes.

Arrive a few minutes early to class to give yourself time to warm up.  Junior students will pick up on this and follow your lead.  Hit the bag, practice your forms, salute in with a partner and do some light chi-sao, drill your basics into the air, practice that technique that is giving you trouble.  Use your time to improve your art.  Get your mind and body ready for class.

Set the example.  Be on time.  Warm up in a martial way.

This doesn't mean stop socializing with your fellow students and turn into a Kung Fu robot.  It means you conduct yourself on the floor in such a way that you think would be most beneficial to not only your training but to everyone else’s training as well.  Lead by example.

5.3 Conditioning

Training is inherently a physical pursuit.  The body is the medium through which we perform martial arts.  As a purple going for blue, it’s important to not just maintain but improve your physical fitness.

Get your conditioning in.  Workouts don’t need to be long to be functional.  Try full out sprinting for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds 8 times in a row.  It takes four minutes and you’re done.  See how many burpees you can do in 2 minutes.  There are countless short workouts like this that leave the body wrecked (in a good way), no doubt you’ve already been exposed to quite a few in class.

Start to think deeper than just lung capacity.  How strong are you?  How’s your flexibility?  How about your balance?  Do you have good accuracy?  Take a look at your physical skills and address your weaknesses.  If you feel like you need work on your flexibility, stretch out for 10 minutes after class.  If you feel like your strength is lacking, hit the weights after class.  It’s not necessary to be the strongest or the fastest to be a good martial artist but it is important to always be looking for ways to improve.  Sweating is part of the equation.

5.4 Progress as a Spiral

Pretend that you’re on a linear path from point A to point B.  Now suppose along this path you encounter 5 lessons and learn from all of them.  Now suppose you loop back around to A, then back to B, back to A, back to B and so on.  Think of this second path is not linear, but a spiral, so that each time you repeat the trek from A to B, you’re actually at a slightly higher elevation than last time - like switchbacking up a steep hill on a hike.

In this spiral, you keep on encountering the same 5 lessons.  Each time, you learn something a little bit different from them.  Each lesson gains more depth.  The original insight is still there but new layers get added on every pass.  This spiral climb is the path of progress with any skill set (including martial arts).  Now of course there are more than 5 lessons in martial arts but the point is that throughout your training you’re going to keep encountering the same things over and over again.  Drills will repeat.  Basics will repeat.  Concepts will repeat.  Sparring partners will repeat.  But each time you encounter this familiar thing you will have moved forward and will hopefully see something different - something deeper.

If you don’t, never fear.  Often progress is tempered with plateaus.  Enjoy the scenery on the plateau and be patient.  There will be another hill full of switchbacks soon enough.

5.5 Centerline

The absolute centerline of a person runs down the middle of their body - nose, sternum, groin - cutting them into two equal pieces.

The fighting centerline of a person runs down the middle of their body relative to how they are facing you.  Thus if they are facing you in a normal stance, their absolute centerline and their fighting centerline are the same.  If they are facing you in a right tiger stance then their fighting centerline will run through their right eye, cheek, hip and knee.

Picture the way that angling the body in a tiger stance offers an opponent less targets.  This is called reducing the centerline (or blading).  When you do partner drills, try out a variety of ways of facing your partner, see how it changes your fighting centerline and see how that changes both your offensive and defensive options.

5.6 The Long Haul

From time to time, it is good to sit back and look at your long term goals in relation to training.  What are you currently getting out of your training?  What did you used to get out of your training?  Have your training goals changed from when you first started?  What would you like to be getting out of your training?

Remember, training in Kung Fu is mental as well as physical.  Examine your goals and motives.  Write them down.  Discuss your goals with your fellow students and your teacher.  If training is to be a long term endeavor, it is important to make it a conscious one.  The other option is to stumble along with your eyes closed, only to find later when you open them you’re not sure where you are, why you’re there or how you got there.

5.7 Partners

When you salute in with someone, the goal is for both of you to learn something from the exchange.  This doesn’t mean you can’t compete with them or challenge them but it does mean that the underlying idea is that you both walk away from the partnership having gained some knowledge.

Some obstacles to learning are: speeding up, slowing down, not aiming to hit, needing to win, too heavy of contact, too light of contact, etc.  There are many more but hopefully this gives you an idea.  Make sure you are doing the drill as instructed.  What was the instructed speed?  What was the instructed contact level?  Are throws allowed?  Are sweeps okay?  If you’re not certain of the details, ask immediately to avoid confusion.

Inevitably, you’ll be partnered up with someone who wasn’t paying attention to the instructions and is doing the drill incorrectly.  As quickly as possible and in as neutral a voice as you can summon, let them know what they’re doing wrong.  If the problem persists and you feel like there is a risk of getting hurt, tell them that you don’t feel safe doing the drill and salute out.  Protect yourself at all times.  If there is a particular student who makes you feel unsafe, don’t salute in with them.  Talk to your teacher about it.

Keep in mind that most students are trying to do their best to follow directions and do the drills correctly.  Fighting drills are tough.  People get amped up.  Do your best to treat your partners with respect and remember that everyone is there to learn from one another.

5.8 Goals

The Westside Academy of Kung Fu has 3 major goals:

1. To grow the system of Mo Duk Pai.

2. To create black belts in Mo Duk Pai.

3. To bring quality martial arts into the awareness of the larger culture.

There are many other smaller goals, of course, but with these three in mind we should be able to steer a clear course.

5.9 Black Belts

What does it take to be a MDP black belt?  What do other system’s black belts look like?

A black belt in Mo Duk Pai is someone you’d want on your side in an emergency.  You’d trust them to be an active part of the solution - to whatever the emergency happens to be.  It’s a broad definition but one that speaks of a person who is competent, confident and knows their own capabilities.

The path to black belt involves learning techniques, concepts and drills that cover a broad range.  There are strikes, kicks, blocks, throws, locks, weapons, forms, etc.  We’re aiming to create someone who has a wide understanding of the art, can communicate that knowledge effectively to another student and can defend themselves in a live street situation.

With that in mind, realize that other arts will have a different viewpoint on what a black belt is.  Whatever that viewpoint is, if you can understand it then you’ll have a solid idea of what they are trying to pass on to their students.  

5.10 Teaching

Rule number one of teaching is be patient.  Everyone who salutes on the floor wants to learn.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there.

When you are teaching a student something, explain it verbally, demonstrate it, do it with them and then let them do it on their own.  If you spot a mistake, correct it.  If you spot ten mistakes, pick the most egregious one and correct that.  If after correcting the mistake, nothing changes, try explaining the correction in a different way.  Demonstrate the mistake.  Demonstrate the correct way.  Have the student do it the incorrect way on purpose and then have them do it the correct way.  It’s not going to be perfect the first time they learn something.  Relax, be patient and let them move forward at their own pace.

If you’ve been asked to teach a student multiple things but they already have smoke coming out of their ears after one technique then slow down.  Think of it like doing chi sao - you don’t want to overwhelm them nor do you want to bore them.  Keep them actively learning - no matter if that means one technique or ten.

Pay attention to your own process as you teach.  Do you have any gaps in your knowledge?  Do you know why we teach this particular technique?  Do you know the application of it?  Have you ever used it in sparring, grappling or chi sao?  Make your teaching an active learning time for both you and the students you work with.

5.11 Straight vs. Curved Line (Fighting principle # 11)

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line but when you are planning a road over hilly terrain, is making a straight line worth it? Do you really want to dig a tunnel, level a mountain or build a bridge just so you can keep the road straight? Does it make more sense to follow the contour of the land and have a windy road?

What about bringing up a difficult topic with a friend? Is it easier to get right to the point or is it better to take a circuitous path and gently broach the subject?

Finally, what about throwing a punch? Will it work to punch straight through someone's guard or is it wiser to curve around to get to your target?

These are all things to consider when you are thinking about the fighting principle of straight line versus curved line. Like all the fighting principles, it is not designed to answer questions but rather to raise questions so that you have more things to play with in your training. Play with straight lines and curves. Find out where and when they work for you.

5.12 Angle of Attack (Fighting principle # 12)

Often the target that we are seeking is blocked.  Sometimes the solution to this problem is not to change techniques but instead, change angles.

If you have a great backfist, but your partner is guarding their head well, can you throw it from an upward 45 angle down into their temple and make it land?  If you are proficient at using a foot sweep as a take down but your partner is stymieing you, can you sweep the back of the foot instead of the side and make it work?

Sometimes a small adjustment in the angle of a technique is the difference between function and futility.  Before abandoning your technique, try changing the angle.

5.13 Line of Attack (Fighting principle # 13)

The fighting principle of line of attack can be understood by laying an imaginary grid over your partner’s body and then thinking of each of the squares created by that grid as a potential target.

For example, you could lay a 3 by 3 grid over your partner's chest thus giving you 9 squares.  If you numbered them then 1 would be the left pec, 2 would be the sternum, 3 would be the right pec, 4 would be the left side of the ribcage, 5 would be the solar plexus... hopefully you get the idea.

The purpose of all this grid laying is to get you to get you to see more targets and also to notice what targeting habits you have.  The idea can be transferred anywhere.  You can lay a grid over the head, the hand, the foot, the knee... it is, again, simply a visual tool to help with targeting.

5.14 Offensive Choices (Fighting principle # 14)

As the coach of a football team, you have many options when it comes to how you want to run your offense.  You can choose the number of running backs you want to have.  You can choose how far or close your receivers will be to the starting position of the ball.  In other words, you have many different set ups to choose from before the ball is hiked.  The set up you choose will likely dictate the kinds of options you will be able to pick from in terms of the play you are going to run.

Think along the same lines when it comes to picking your fighting stance while you are waiting on the line for a tournament sparring match to begin.  Will you pick a forward, neutral or back leaning stance?  Will you be hopping around with your feet or standing still?  Will you have both hands up high, one high and one low or both hands down?  These set up choices will at least partially dictate your initial strike in the match and will also influence your ability to respond to what your partner does.

For the football coach, once the offensive set up is chosen, then there is the matter of picking the play.  Will you run or pass?  Will you fake?  Will it be a simple or complex play?  Are you reacting to what the other team is doing?   Are you anticipating how they will react defensively to what you have been throwing at them offensively?

In that same vein, picture yourself in a sport grappling match where you have bottom guard position.  From there, will you sweep to take a top position, try for a submission from bottom guard or perhaps mix the two and use a submission attack that leads into a sweep?

These are all examples of offensive choices.  Consider the tools that you have.  Consider how your partner reacts defensively (and offensively) to those tools.  

Required reading:

Ethics: Bushido, by Inazo Nitobe

Suggested (optional) additional reading:

Fighting principles: The Tao of Jeet Kun Do, by Bruce Lee.

The Long Haul: Mastery, by George Leonard.

(If you notice any spelling errors, grammar mistakes or have any questions regarding the training manual, please email me at sifu@westsideakf.com)