Category: Martial Arts Musings Blog Spot

 

The Contractual Conundrum: Student Contracts (Part 1)

I regularly get calls from martial arts school owners asking for advice on how to handle various problems. They range from contract negotiations with landlords to the best way to deal with parents. While each situation is different and certainly there is no one right answer… my advice always begins with “Do the right thing for the right reason.”
Generally, this is met with dead silence on the other side of the phone. After a few moments, the conversation continues with more specific an in depth talk about what that particular individual is trying to deal with at the moment. The conversation always comes back to “what do you feel is the right thing to do?” Followed by, “Well I think I should do this, but this would be a lot easier. What do you think?”
Each time I hear this, I can’t help but shake my head. So often, we trade the right path for the easy path and it is a slippery slope that we travel when we take that first step. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t compromise or attempt to find a middle ground when there is room for negotiation. When, however; there is a clear bright line between what we should and shouldn’t do then we should always error on the side of what we know is right regardless of how hard it is.
Good examples of bright line issues are student contracts. Any martial arts school owner that chooses to utilizes contracts in any form will eventually find someone (fortunately these are the minority) that does not feel they must follow the terms of whatever they have agreed to do. While it certainly can be easier to acquiesce to a squeaky wheel, in the long term it will create problems with the clients that remain behind. You can’t bend the rules for one person and not another without good reason. It is important to be fair to all of your clients.
Contracts are put in place to protect the school owner and the client. Certainly, there are situations that will require modification of an individual contract, but that should be spelled out either under an exigent clause (i.e. unforeseen military deployment, loss of income, etc.) in the contract or through written business practices. If you have done your due diligence, and follow those guidelines the rest is simple.
If you did your job upfront, the client knew what they were signing and they were most likely getting some benefit for doing so. Often schools will reduce fees for individuals on contracts or in the case of short-term contracts like auto pays it is a matter of convenience. Either way, it is a matter of ethics and of law.
Don’t be ashamed of asking them to do what you do everyday, live up to their commitments. You as a school owner have to step back and say, if I don’t pay my bills under my purchase/lease contract with my bank or my landlord will I still have a business to run? If the answer is no (and we know it is) then why should we not hold clients to the same standard?
Coming soonPart Two: When is it Okay to Cut a Student Loose?
Jeff Helaney is a 9th Degree Black Belt in TaeKwon-Do. He is president of the United States Kido Federation and is an Advisor to the International JunTong TaeKwon-Do Federation

Martial Arts Musings: 5 Easy Tips for Finding A Great Martial Arts School

by Jeff Helaney, IX Dan
President
United States Kido Federation

You have started looking for a new martial arts school. Unless you have some previous experience this can be a daunting journey. The Internet is full of schools and each one has a list of reasons posted on why you should select them. Before too long you feel like your head is going to explode and you wonder why you started looking. Relax, this a helpful guide in aid you in your quest to find the school that is right for you and/or your child.

There is no real way to find the school you want unless you do your homework. Reading this little article is a good start. As frustrating as the search can be there are some universal truths that will help you with your decision making process:

Truth #1 – “THERE IS NO ONE PERFECT SCHOOL FOR EVERYONE”KellyKick
A good business owner and martial arts instructor does not want to ‘sell’ everyone who walks through their door. If a client isn’t a good fit then it is counter-productive for the school AND the client will leave in short order. It is much better for both parties to discuss goals, expectations, and requirements before a relationship is developed. Ask a lot of questions. If things don’t feel right during your conversations then they probably aren’t.

Truth #2 – “PRICE AND QUALITY ARE NOT RELATED”
Do not base your decision solely on the cost of the classes you are researching. Price and quality do not have an equal correlation when it comes to martial arts instruction. An inexpensive school is not a good deal if the instruction is substandard. An overly expensive school great school is not helpful if you cannot afford to regularly attend classes. While price is a consideration, it should not be your only reason to choose the school you are attending. Find one that fits your goals.

Truth #3 – “NOT EVERY ART IS THE SAME”
When you begin looking for martial arts classes have a defined goal in mind. ChildrenKDOA generally benefit most from active martial arts classes. These groups of arts include various types of TaeKwon-Do and Karate. Healthy, active adults that are looking for self-defense classes tend to gravitate towards arts like Hapkido or Ju-Jitsu. Older individuals with limited mobility are often happiest in soft style martial arts like Tai Chi or Qi Gong. The Internet makes it easy to watch demonstrations of different arts, but be realistic in searching out the classes that interest you.

Truth #4 – “INTEGRITY IS MORE THAN JUST A WORD”
It doesn’t matter whether you are looking for a great restaurant, a new doctor, or a martial arts school … all of them have a history. In today’s information age is easy to learn a lot about the school (s) and the instructor (s) that you are looking at trying out. Professional affiliations, the media, consumer advocacy agencies (ex. BBB), and the Internet are all resources that you want to explore to learn about the positives a school has to offer and if there are schools you want to avoid. The best indicator, however; of how a school operates are the students and parents of that school. Ask for a free trial, watch a class, and talk to the people around you. If a person is happy with the service they are receiving then they will tell you. If they are unhappy then they will really tell you.

Truth #5 – “A HARD SELL SHOULD BE A HARD SELL”
IMG_1858There are a number of business models out there that both advocate or discourage the use of contracts. Most schools that are contract based do it because they want to insure they make the rent each month. Month to month schools are more often focused on relationship building. Neither is extremely good or bad, they just are. There are, however; a number of red flags that should go up when an instructor tries to sign you to a long term contract immediately before you have had a chance to do your due diligence. If you feel rushed, pressured, or otherwise uncomfortable stop what you are doing. Get up and politely walk out of the meeting and re-set it (if you are so inclined) after you have had time to process what was being asked of you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. We hope enjoy your journey into the martial arts. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments. We are happy to discuss your needs and help you find a great school. Write: info@uskido.org for more information.

It Must Be Something Else

By GM Jeff Helaney
President
United States Kido Federation

 

I read a post not too long ago from a Facebook acquaintance who listed a number of reasons why if your uniforms didn’t look the same, your bows weren’t done the same way, or if you called your patterns something else (.. ad infinitum) you weren’t doing Taekwon-Do … you are doing something else. I generally try to be politically correct and don’t enter debates, but given the fact that I am a 9th Dan in Traditional TaeKwon-Do and as of this post I have been practicing the art for over 46 years … I think I am entitled to voice my opinion on this one small subject. I believe the term I want to use is inappropriate for general audiences, so I will simply use the term “Horse Pucky”. It conveys just the right amount of humor and disbelief.

One of my pet peeves are individuals who individuals that feel their way is the only right way. TaeKwon-Do was never meant to be isolationistic or frozen in time, it was meant to grow, to breath, and to develop. I doubt General Choi ever envisioned this art becoming stagnant and so full of dogma that someone would ever say, “.. if you aren’t doing these things you are doing something else than TaeKwon-Do”.

Understand there is no one correct way for an art to develop. No one person or organization has the correct answer. The answer is in each individual and the art is a reflection of the practitioner. It is as diverse as the people that study it. It is not and should not be the other way around. When we allow creativity and diversity into the equation we grow stronger. While history … any history is an important component of any martial art art … it is not the end of the story just a beginning. Developments should not become dogma, but rather stepping stones on to new and better things.
Anyone who knows anything about the history of TaeKwon-Do will tell you that it is a borrowed art, meaning that most of the concepts and techniques came from other styles. They have morphed over the years (for better and for worse) from the original constructs where they took their first breath. Although there seems to be a debate who was the ‘father’ of TaeKwon-Do Won Kuk Lee or Choi Hong Hi … the facts are that both were students of Gichin Funakoshi, a Shotokan Karate instructor, and neither were ranked higher than 2nd Dan in this art. Great history lesson … but it is just history. Both played different roles in the history of TaeKwon-Do including the founding of Tang Soo Do, the Chung Do Kwan, and the creation of the International TaeKwon-Do Federation that made them more than the sum of a similar lack luster past. Likewise, TaeKwon-Do is more than just its history, an organization, or an individual. TaeKwon-Do at its very core is an engine for growth.

When I was young one of my teachers, Suk Ki Shin, asked be if I knew why Korea was a great place to learn martial arts. I told him I had no idea. He told me he felt it was because his country was continually invaded and they stole ideas from their attackers. It was this diversity that made Korean martial arts ‘superior’ in his mind. He joked, “It was a Saturday and this country or that country was bored … so they invaded us.” I didn’t fully appreciate the humor at the time, but now I understand. He felt that his country may have not had the handle on creation when it came to marital arts, but they were great at adapting and molding techniques into something better.

This is TaeKwon-Do … It is a hodgepodge of different arts pulled together over time by a number of dynamic individuals. It is growth and ideas … and it is understanding that growth is earned with sweat and pain. TaeKwon-Do has multiple patterns … some of which were born of this organization or that organization … none of which are ever truly consistent. Arguably, it is the differences that make them important and foster growth while it is the similarities that bond them to each themselves. TaeKwon-Do is not a Korean art (although it was conceived there) it is an art that belongs to the world. It is something that changes with environment, physicality, and understanding.

I hope that my art that I love so dear is never bottled up. I hope that is not kept from adapting and developing … it is a river that was meant to carve out new vistas for generations to come. It should never gather dust on a shelf because of ideology or organizational bias.

The Entitlement Mentality: You Aren’t Seriously Talking to ME!

by GM Jeff Helaney, 9th Dan

There is truth to the assertion that our society has changed significantly in the last 25 years. Some attribute these changes to radical improvements in technology while others take the stance that our societal moral compass ceased to point north. Both statements take an extreme stance and paint with a large brush stroke yet neither provides any definitive proof of symptom or illness.

Team 2012

I am not tackling the big picture in two pages. I do not want to debate whether or not we have become desensitized to violence because of video games, nor do I want to talk about the decline of our youth intellectually, morally, or spiritually. I want to be very narrow in scope, tell a few stories, and perhaps throw some analytical thinking to the mix. I will let the reader decided if this post was worth a read.

I was sitting at a meeting a few weeks ago when the conversation turned to hiring personnel. The people involved in the discussion were of my age group give or take 10 years. One of the participants spoke of a person who came in to interview fifteen minutes late looking disheveled and unprepared. He was angry that his interview was canceled and that he was not considered for the job. He lamented that it wasn’t his fault that he overslept and that he would be a great employee. This drew mild chuckles from the business owners present. The conversation quickly became a story telling session of every frustrating interview, job performance review, or termination that the group had experienced.

Through this cathartic conversation a strong theme emerged. Entitlement. Whether it was the college kid’s dad who tried to have the HR person fired he didn’t hire his young adult child (the job was given to a better qualified than the applicant with an MBA and 15 years experience), the drunk who wanted to have his parking validated after hitting the interviewers car in the parking lot, or the person who was fired after taking money from the till every day because she didn’t get a raise … it was all about entitlement. Right and wrong took on a very skewed perspective in these people and they had a strong feeling that the rules were for everyone else unless it benefited them.

I had a large dose of this type of thinking during my career in law enforcement and in government. It was very common for me to watch people re-write reality to fit their wants. Imagine my dismay when I found this behavior was so pervasive that it permeated every aspect of my life. Including my beloved martial arts. Now before I go any further, I am not one to cast stones in a glass house. I am far from perfect and I have made my share of mistakes in life. We are all fallible … the difference is I know I have been wrong and I recognize the mistakes I have made in life. They were choices based on life situations for me. I didn’t always choose wisely. I may even make a few more mistakes before my time is up. It is part of life. What I find incredulous is the amount of people who continually make life decisions without regard to potential outcomes. They see expediency and entitlement as part of their moral perspective. Everyone who does not don’t function within their expected parameters is against them, is evil, or simply doesn’t get it.

It is common for me to see parents who are upset because their child wasn’t allowed to test and I have had more than one student quit because our standards were ‘too tough’ or because ‘we asked too much out of them’.   I have even been told that, “I understand why you do that for (insert name here), but I don’t understand why my child should have to do that.” Hint … in case you didn’t guess it is they really don’t understand, but think they are making a case to change your mind.

It frustrates me when I see a good martial artist give into this type of pressure and compromise their values. Often time McDojo’s aren’t born they are made one compromise at a time. It often starts with a lessoning of standards to make an individual happy and ends with a school where profit is the only benchmark of success. I get the need to make a profit, but at the end of the day we are not teaching our students the right lessons if we let them drive our schools out of entitlement. It is better to lose a few than lose who you are.

Here are a few truths that make running a school easier: 1) If you set reasonable standards and administer them fairly and consistently to will retain more students than you lose. 2) You will always lose a percentage of your students no matter what you do or how good you are. You will always retain some students no matter how bad you are. 3) You will give of yourself and it will not be appreciated. Some people will forget it or never acknowledge it. Understand, some people will always view the world in a way that makes them feel good about themselves even at the cost of others. You are only a part in their play and they can write the script however they want. Reality is seldom a factor. You can’t control it and you can’t change it. Accept it and don’t let it control you. 4) People will lie to you and people will tell you the truth. Sometimes it will be hard to figure out which they are doing. It doesn’t matter as long as you react to both from an ethical place. 5) Being kind, consistent, and ethical is no guarantee of success … but it does allow you to live more easily with your decisions. Betraying who you are for profit or to make a client stay is no guarantee of success. It will, however; eat away at your soul. 6) You have to be true to yourself. You shouldn’t try to please everyone and you will NEVER make everyone happy. (Thanks Abe) 7) Life doesn’t owe you anything. Success most often is born of sweat and hard work. Be honest, be diligent, be truthful, be strong, and be kind. If you don’t live up to those values then you really don’t have anything to teach your students of worth.

This my friends is my lesson for the day: Allowing yourself to compromise your values for someone else is a mistake. Enabling an entitlement mentality in your students (or employees, or friends, or … well you get it) is not a favor to them, it is a disservice. It is incumbent upon us as teachers to try to do what is right for our students even if it is hard. Those that don’t want to learn the lesson will find somewhere else to go. You have to be okay with it. You did the right thing. In the end is that what we are supposed to do?

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Instructors and Promotions

Jeff Helaney 9th Dan
President – United States Kido Federation

Is rank really that important? Is one black belt rank more valid than another? Are standards fixed or mutable? I tend to write a lot about this topic because it is plays a significant role how we understand our arts and helps shape our journey paradigm through our specific art. The answers to each one of these questions will vary by the person answering it. I know several high ranking martial artists that put significant importance on the achievement of rank. While I agree that rank is an external motivator and is intended to be representative of progression through a specific art, it is an often corrupted by commercial schools in order to increase profits.  

Like anything of worth, it takes time to learn a martial art. I am saddened when I watch schools and individuals issue black belt ranks to students after just a few years of training or issue them to children too young to understand what they are learning. It cheapens the experience and cheats them out of the journey. A belt rank is not nearly as important as the knowledge gained along the way. Knowledge and skill are not acquired through osmosis, but rather through hard work and time spent in training. The counter-point is that we live in a very ‘entitled’ society and people expect instant gratification. I am frequently confronted by instructors who will tell me that that they have to promote regardless of skill or they will lose students. My response is, “Yes you will, but so what?” I am not being dismissive, but realistic. It is impossible to make every person happy that walks through your door and you will quickly go crazy trying to do it. You have to draw a line in the sand early on and say, “This is who I am and what I believe…” or you will lose your ability to teach and your credibility as an instructor. There is no martial arts teacher worth his or her salt that hasn’t parted ways with a client over ethics or standards. It is a reality that we have to come to terms with, not every person is right for every school.

Despite what you may read in a martial arts business magazine or hear at a seminar you do not need long contracts, gimmicks, or to change who you are to be successful. You have to be true to your convictions and make your students aware of who you are and what you represent before they start. Some will go elsewhere off the bat (you really don’t need them … they won’t be a good fit), some will stay awhile until they realize they aren’t progressing as fast as they want and then leave (you don’t need them … they can sour the environment at your school), and some will stay around to teach the next generation (they are your legacy … treat them as such). Students who share your values will gravitate towards you and will help you grow.

It is important to remember that rank is only as important as the knowledge that accompanies it. No one organization, school, or individual has the market cornered on credibility. It is essential that both instructors and students take responsibility and pride in their journey. This process is facilitated through an interactive process and on-going discourse about each individuals learning process and progress. In order to be effective, instructors need to shift a portion of this burden to the student and encourage questions. This does not mean you should alter your core curriculum or values to meet individual needs, but rather modify those things which can be changed in order to help them meet your standards. This does not always happen. An instructor can only open a door, it is up to the student to walk through it. In the end, it is the acquired skill and knowledge that should determine rank progression … not a contract or time in grade.

Standards may vary somewhat from organization to organization (or school to school) but they should be relatively fixed within your own doors. If you treat one person differently from another then you are being unfair to everyone who walks through your doors. The only exception you may consider are for those with either physical or mental disabilities that prevent normal progression. This is a sticky subject, but one that has to be considered with compassion and realistic expectations in mind. Often there is a ceiling that is reached early on, but rewards can then take place in other venues rather than rank promotion. I would caution each instructor to keep from straying too far from their standards or they will find themselves on a slippery slope that can be the downfall of their school. Do not grease that squeaking wheel for the sake of expediency and at the cost of your ethical grounds. It will bite you in the end. Let a person go who does not deserve a promotion rather than issue it. If you do otherwise you will lesson the credibility of your school. 

Martial Arts Musings – Integrity

Integrity is a quality that is often espoused but is as rare in the modern world as it was when Diogenes searched ancient Greece for honest man. Ambition, greed, and self-absorption have always lessened a light that was meant to a beacon of the human spirit. Perhaps it is the rarity of this virtue that makes it so special and powerful. “A man imbued with the qualities of courage, integrity, and hope can change the world.” – Anonymous

Those of us who train in the martial arts are supposed to be part of a rare breed who understand this concept and who foster its development. Unfortunately, we as a whole are no better than any other group. There are martial artists who embrace the virtues of integrity and there are those who, well lets just say that their moral compass doesn’t always face true north. Sometimes the behavior is deliberate and other times it comes from self-deception.

The litmus test for understanding integrity is motivation. It has been said that if you are doing the right thing for the right reason then you are demonstrating integrity. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to know what is “right”. Perspective plays a large role in our understanding of human behavior. What may seem logical and right to one person may appear less than ethical to another. It is the point of view of the person viewing the behavior that gives color to the action.

Rather than utilize a broad motivational category to define the parameters of integrity in the martial arts, I believe that it imperative that we drill down to the core of the matter and ask … “Can you celebrate and promote the success of others by your actions?” As human beings we tend to self-centric and altruism is rare. Yet integrity at its most basic level is not just understanding what is right but doing what is right. Few can argue the merits of considering the welfare of others as we consider our own.

As a teacher are you concerned with the development of your students and the promotion of your art … or does the bottom line drive you? As a student are you more concerned with your next rank or with the knowledge that comes before it? While there is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from something you love or looking forward to a promotion, it is wrong if they are sole goals. Integrity is have the ability to recognize that inherent good in doing what is right and standing up for that belief even if it is not popular.

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Martial Arts Musings – The Art of Perseverance

When we first start a martial arts class we are filled with unrealistic expectations. We believe that we will pick up physical skills faster than is humanly possible and many of us compare our progress with images we have seen in the mass media.  The fact of the matter is we are all human. Each of us has a unique set of attributes that makes us who we are. Some of us are naturally athletic and others are more analytical. No matter what are strengths (or weaknesses) we will continue to grow in the martial arts and life as long as we preserve.

IMG_2982For every one reason there is to continue with a difficult undertaking, many of us can find 10 reasons to quit. Apathy and laziness are the mortal enemies of perseverance. It is just to easy to give up on a dream when we find the dream requires work and dedication. We see this entirely too often in martial arts and fitness training classes. So many people begin with the dream of achieving a black belt or getting fit only to find that the work is hard, repetitive, and often uncomfortable. It isn’t long before those individuals leave for the next endeavor. These are the same individuals that will pack into a fitness class in January and are making excuses from the couch by March while snacking on chips and watching an infomercial on the next diet craze.

Understanding that foundations are important in any undertaking is important. It is almost always impossible to get from point A to point D without passing through points B&C. There are truly no short cuts that allow us to magically transform in to Jackie Chan or the fitness model on the cover of the magazine. Each endeavor we undertake that is worth something requires work and dedication … it requires perseverance.

When given the opportunity, I try to explain to new martial arts students that they are beginning a journey that has no final destination. Belts and trophies are simply mile posts along the way. The joy of the art is in the undertaking, not in reaching the end. It is in learning that we are more than we thought and that we can be come what we desire as long as we don’t give up. Too often this advice falls on deaf ears, but every once in awhile the person who is listening hears what is being said and internalizes it.

Last week I watched my adult daughter counsel a parent on the importance of perseverance. Their child had found a particular activity difficult and was terribly upset that they weren’t able to achieve their goals immediately. The parents reaction was that since it was too hard she should pull her child out of the class. This is a paraphrase of the advice she gave, “I have never been a quitter. I was never allowed to quit as a child until I met my commitment. As a a result I became a black belt, a teacher, and found my first love was martial arts. I, also, found out that dance, modeling, and a number of other things were not for me. I learned because I did each thing I wanted to do and gave it a chance. If you allow your child to quit every time something is hard they will never achieve their goals and they may never find their spark.”

In this case, her counsel fell on someone who did not want to hear what she had to say, but I heard and was proud.  She gets it … most people who go on to teach get it. Perseverance isn’t about the short trip to store in the care, it is about the long walk home through the storm. It is about hard times that shape us and mold us. It is the art and the definition of ourselves as we make our way through life.  How many of us would like to say, “I have never been a quitter” and really mean it?

Martial Arts Musings – When is it Time to Cut a Client Loose?

One of the most difficult things about owning and running a martial arts school is knowing when to drop a difficult client. At some point we have all tried to hang on to a individual past the point where we knew that the relationship was probably not good for us personally or for the school. Unfortunately, when you try to salvage a toxic business relationship the fallout can have dramatic effects.

Often the school owner or instructor struggles with the concept of trying to fix things versus parting ways. Few of us want to admit failure and this can be our downfall. We can not accept responsibility for the actions of our students beyond what occurs during a class we are teaching. Character or lack there of is a difficult concept to teach in a hour long increments.

There are some general guidelines you can utilize to help you make the decision.

1) Is it an issue that can result in the injury of an other student? If you have an overly aggressive student that shows little regard for the well being of others after reasonable correction then it is your duty to cut them loose. Waiting could result in lawsuits and worse could result in a needless injury falling on your conscience.

2) Does the student continually fail to pay for classes or fees in a timely manner? We all want to help our students out, but if lack of payment is tied to lack of character it is time to cut them loose. The “I want something for nothing” syndrome is contagious and if one client finds that the can manipulate you … then beware. It may not be long until you are dealing with a group of problems that can pull your business down quickly.

3) Does the student or family continually find something to complain about? Cut “ball sport” clients as soon as they raise their heads in your school. Owners and instructors should always be aware of and try to fix valid complaints, however; when you start noticing that an individual or group is creating drama for the sake of drama then it is time to part ways. It is true that one bad apple can spoil the barrel if given enough time.

4) Is the student unhappy? This is the hardest pill to swallow, but the most important. Sometimes a client is just not meant to do martial arts (or at least do martial arts at your school). From a purely moral perspective we as instructors should not tie students to something that they do not want to do. It is ultimately bad for business. Complaints and community perception can be tied to how you treat people. I know there is a strong argument for utilizing and holding people to contracts as a method of insuring revenue. It has, however; been my experience that this is not the best way to insure long term revenue. Quality instruction and caring instructors have won out over legal documents every time in situations that I have encountered.

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Martial Arts Musings – The Last Promotion

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Left to Right: GM Patrick Hickey Kwanmukan; GM Brandon Rogers Kukkiwon Advisory Board; Troy Trudeau World TaeSool Association; GM Jeff Helaney US Kido Federation, GM James Rosenbach; GM Robert Dunn International Jun Tong TaeKwon-Do Federation; GM Rodney Kauffman

On April 26, 2014 I received my 9th Dan in Traditional TaeKwon-Do from Grandmaster Robert Dunn among an assembly of other noted grandmasters.  The occasion was attended by martial artists from all over the country, past and present students, instructors, and family members. It was the last promotion I will ever receive in the art of TaeKwon-Do.

I have grown old enough that the stripes on my belt will no longer increase. While this may sound flippant, it is not. Many years ago as a younger master I was teaching a seminar with a long deceased Grandmaster that I had just met. I was in awe over his rank and knowledge. I had the honor of picking his brain for an afternoon while on a boat ride around the lakes of upstate New York. A lot of the conversations we had that day are most likely the food for a different post. One of the things he said to me, however; was don’t be impressed by the rank, “I am just getting older.” I understood what he was saying, but knew that there was more to it. Right?IMG_7575

As the years chased by my rank slowly increased. At each new rank, I matured a little more into my role as a teacher and mentor. Last weekend, I started on my final martial arts journey in TaeKwon-Do. It is the beginning of a new chapter for me and the end of an old one. As a 9th Dan, I can no longer be promoted in my primary art. I have risen to the end of that structure. It is a bitter-sweet moment that I contemplate … an ending and a beginning.

Time and choices made along the way have made me the person that I am. I am honored and nervous about this change. I have met the men whose steps I have been asked to walk in and I find myself feeling small. Their strides are longer and more sure than mine. I feel inadequate, unprepared, and unworthy despite it all. At 9th Dan I am a white belt again. I have to empty my cup and fill it with something new.

My journey to this point took time. I did not feel my wisdom increase in concert with my age or even my physical skills, but then again I didn’t feel the color of my hair changing either. I often feel my body is falling apart with old injuries, yet I will do things I would chastise a lower rank for doing because I feel I am the one who should do it. It is like that when you walk in the shoes of giants, you put your all into being a shadow of greatness. The shoes I follow in are huge.

IMG_7558As I move forward with this responsibility, I understand things will change for me. I have to be more than I am, but I still have to maintain my sense of self. I need to know when to tell an up-coming martial artist to enjoy the journey and not be impressed by my rank because “I am just getting older.”

I will end this post with a thank you to all of those people who have made this journey possible for me. I am blessed to have known each of you and to have been able to achieve a dream.

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Martial Arts Musings – Don’t Confuse MMA with Traditional Martial Arts

IMG_1167by GM Jeff Helaney
I admit it; I was a closet Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fan. For years I watched the Ultimate Fighting Competition and PRIDE bouts on television. I enjoyed watching the sport and marveled at the conditioning of the athletes. It was a testosterone kick for the caveman lurking inside of me.

It wasn’t until the reality shows started appearing that the sport started to lose some luster for me. While I still was impressed by the conditioning of the athletes, I became less and less impressed by the trash talking and game playing that was taking place on these shows. The immaturity of many of the fighters was extremely evident. In my mind it immediately stopped being entertaining and it started to make me a bit mad.

Yes, the fighters being highlighted on these shows are amazing athletes but they appeared as the antithesis of the traditional martial art role model. MMA may be a martial sport, but it is definitely not a martial art. Traditional martial arts are about respect: respect for yourself, respect for others, and respect for traditions. These shows were accenting behaviors more closely associated with entertainment wrestling than what someone would expect to see in a dojang, dojo or any other type of martial arts studio.

The popularity of the MMA may have boosted some interest in martial arts classes, but they have also spawned a lot of questionable mixed martial arts studios. It is not unusual at these types of MMA studios to see very even young children training for full contact matches under the instruction of unqualified individuals that don’t understand physiology or safety.

A case in point is tragic death of Dennis Kirkham. An article in “Fanhouse” by A.J. Perez said that, “Kirkham was largely self-taught, reading MMA books and studying his favorite fighters, such as Chuck Liddell.” It doesn’t appear as if Kirkham had a lot of guidance in his training, nor does it appear he anyone pushing him to get the medical treatment that might have prevented him from getting in the ring that night. The tragedy is that by all accounts he had some natural talent in this sport. It was his lack of money, training, and understanding that may have ultimately cost him his life. None of us should ever look at this tragic loss just an unexpected accident.

Before I get jumped over this article by some of my acquaintances who are involved in sport MMA, I want you to notice I qualified all my statements to this point. There are some very good instructors out there teaching MMA sport fighting who have a background in martial arts, boxing, and/or kickboxing. They understand human physiology and they care enough about their students to make sure they get medical treatment when it is needed and keep them from fighting when they don’t get it. Unfortunately, a lot of these MMA practitioners are people you will never hear of outside of a local circuit.

I have been involved in martial arts most of my life and I will never be an MMA fighter. It is just not my thing, I respect the training discipline of the fighters but there aren’t a lot of ones that I think of as great role models and that is what it is about for me. Thanks in part to the popularity of shows like the “Ultimate Fighting Challenge” I will probably continue to cringe when people confuse the two very distinct disciplines. You probably won’t catch me watching as many fights as I used to because of my aversion to the way the sport is being portrayed on television. I doubt if Dana White or other MMA promoters will mourn the loss of one fan, but I have to wonder if I am the only one who is disappointed.

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