Does experience matter?

Written by bryan. Posted in Coaching, Martial Arts skills

Karate Instructor, GKR Basingstoke, GKR Region 38, Fort Hill, Everest, Go Kan Ryu, Go-Kan-Ryu, Shotokan, Wado, Shito, Goju, Karate in Basingstoke

Does experience matter?

From time to time that old chestnut pops up on the internet about people who are n’t Black belts teaching Martial Arts and whether this is an acceptable approach or not. The main thrust of the two arguments are:-

You don’t need to be a Black Belt to teach! 

The argument is that anyone can be a teacher of Martial Arts because its far more important that you can communicate well with people. Some systems proactively recruit junior students, in some cases with mere months of training experience to teach Karate or Taekwondo for them to an unsuspecting audience and this help them to grow their business or franchise.
Part of this argument is valid, in that in order to be a good teacher, you need to be a good communicator at many levels and in many different ways. In the past, I’ve seen people as high as 7th Dan, who technically were good at Karate, but were awful at teaching it and developing their students.

  You need to be a Black Belt to teach! 

The argument here is that in order to teach, one needs a certain level of technical knowledge and expertise, otherwise it becomes ‘monkey see – monkey do’ without any detailed technical depth of knowledge to back it up. As one progresses in Martial Arts practice, it becomes more demanding. Mentally with more things to learn, understand and develop and each year the person trains, they should develop new skills and enhance or even change existing ones. If they aren’t then they are simply doing White belt level Karate, even if they have been training for 15 years. I remember Vince Morris a well known Shotokan Karate 8th Dan asking us on a course about 28 years ago. “Have you trained for 15 years? Or have you trained for three years five times?” It took me a little while to understand the significance of his question, but after over 30 years of training, I find there is still so much more to learn.
People below black belt are unlikely to have the requisite depth of knowledge to be a competent and effective teacher, even if the syllabus that they teach is simplistic in the extreme.
 Part of this argument is correct, that you need to have a long term exposure to Martial Arts and be a senior grade before you can hope to teach it, perhaps I should caveat that and say teach it with any degree of depth or knowledge.

  What’s the reality?

In truth not only do you need to be an excellent communicator able to adapt to different learning styles, you also need to have a depth of technical knowledge and competence to back this up.
Martial Arts by virtue of what they are capable of doing can be dangerous for both the practitioner and also for their fellow practitioners if they are not taught correctly. This is due to the risk of poorly taught techniques causing severe long term chronic injuries to the practitioner or due to them injuring another student through inappropriate techniques. The other aspect to consider from a students perspective, particularly at the higher grade levels, is that in order to progress, its important to train with someone who is much better than you.
 I had a conversation with a friend of mine, who was ranked in Karate at Shodan (1st Dan) level, he told me about a conversation, he had with his instructor. He asked what more would he need to learn to achieve his Nidan (2nd Dan) and the reply was that the only difference was to learn a new Kata (A Kata is a sequence of moves, like a fighting dance.) Clearly something was amiss there, as the requirement was only to learn a new sequence of moves that he could already perform. Those clubs that encourage non black belts to teach are the ones that are typically part of a large business or a franchise model and are more interested in ££££ than developing good, competent students with a wealth of knowledge.
 So always ask what grade and experience the coach has with their Martial Arts. Don’t be fobbed of, by someone saying “my grade is Instructor.” If they say that, they are almost certainly not a Black Belt.
The other thing to consider is whether the teacher holds any recognised teaching/coaching qualification. As a minimum a good teacher must have a current First Aid qualification, hold an enhanced CRB form, have instructors insurance to teach you (don’t forget that the student should also have their own personal insurance too) and also hold a formally recognised external Martial Arts Coaching qualification. See the Martial Arts Standards Agency’s website for clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable for an instructor. 
 Sport England’s Clubmark
 (Sport’s Quality Kitemark) say this about coaches:-

Coaching staff have a key role in establishing an appropriate coaching environment and creating a successful playing programme. All sports have to demonstrate that coaches are trained to appropriate levels and that the activity undertaken in the club reflects best practice in the development of young people. For example. coaches are required to ensure that young people do not train excessively or in conditions that may cause injury or discomfort. The emphasis within Clubmark is that coaches are supported in their professional development, so when new ideas or updates (e.g., LTAD) become available the NGB supports its coaches to understand and implement them.

Both coaches and students need to aware and mindful of what they are doing and who they are doing it with. Good training.


Women can’t learn a Martial Art! Can they?

Written by bryan. Posted in Martial Arts skills

Woman, self defence, lady, Karate, Kickboxing, Taekwondo, Basingstoke, Judo

The Martial Arts are primarily feminine.

Many would think this a strange statement until they start to look a bit deeper.

By nature men are linked to the sun (yang) and women to the moon (yin). Women have a 28 day biorhythmic cycle and their emotions change to reflect where they are on it, their range of emotions tends to be on a far wider spectrum than men. Some say that this would make them unsuitable for martial arts, but if they can use this range of emotions in a positive way they have the ability to become better martial artists than men.

Men are on a 24hour biorhythmic cycle. It’s often said that men are like dogs and women like cats. Dogs are generally the same each day, as long as their basic needs are looked after on a daily basis, they are usually happy. Cats can be moody, one day they respond to you with love and affection, others they are aloof and on some days will hiss at you and are liable to scratch you.

Working or training with a group of men is much the same on a day to day basis the usual banter, jokes and conversation doesn’t change much, working or training with a group of women is not, the moods and conversation can be very diverse depending on the emotional level, it’s also said that when women are together on a day to day basis their ‘moon cycles’ will gradually harmonise. So women are capable of greater emotional depth and if that can be tapped in to and controlled, it will increase martial ability.

The Martial Arts require empathy, they also require the ability to yield, blend, stick, follow and subtly redirect the opponent, these are all feminine qualities. They call for a low centre of balance, which is more common in women, they require grace, fluidity and a natural ‘ease’ of movement and as women tend not rely on strength, technique comes more easily to them

Men enjoy martial arts ‘sparring’ it’s much like the sexual preening that goes on throughout the animal kingdom, where the males of the species lock horns to show females that they are the ones that they should mate with, these shows rarely result in death or permanent damage and the human male enjoys flamboyant shows and techniques that go with Dojo sparring and competition.

The female of most species is deadly. Their role is to protect the family and the young. Threaten any woman’s’ child and watch them turn into a venomous avenger! There is no time to ‘play’ – the female job is to kill and do it fast. Women are also great strategists with the ability to use guile, the weapon of choice is more likely to be poison or a pair of scissors in the back whilst you were asleep or have your back turned than it is to have a toe to toe stand up fight. Traditional martial arts techniques are more designed to suit the female purpose than the male, it’s only as the sporting aspect has come to the fore that the male way of ‘sparring’ has become more popular.

Women are also more intuitive. This comes from the 28 day cycle and their wider emotional range, it makes women function more heavily from the right brain than the left. The ability to read the subliminal body language of a prospective opponent and to read a situation more spatially is a feminine skill.

Women have a greater capacity to accept and deal with pain using emotional strategies than men and once committed, are more likely to maintain their training schedule.

There are many records of female warriors throughout history, the Rig-Veda, an ancient sacred poem of India, written between 3500 and 1800 BC recounts the story of a warrior, Queen Vishpla, who lost her leg in battle, was fitted with an iron prosthesis, and returned to battle. On the walls of Hittite fortresses dating to 1300 BC there were paintings of woman warriors carrying axes and swords.

There are also legends of the Greek Amazon women warriors who may have been based on Scythian women of the 4th and 5th Centuries BC in what is now called Iran.

In 39AD two Vietnamese women named Trung Trac and Trung Nhi led a Vietnamese uprising against the Chinese. They gained control of 65 citadels and reigned as queens until 43 AD.

Even Japan was ruled in 200AD, by a warrior priestess queen called Himoko.

One of the most famous British female warriors was Bouddicca, who was the widow of King Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe. She was regent for her two daughters who inherited half of the kingdom, while the other half was given to Rome. The Romans objected to being given only half of the kingdom and provoked a revolt in 61AD. It was said that in the ranks of her soldiers there were more women than men fighting.

Women have always been fighting alongside men at war or keeping the home and economy safe whilst the men were away and often doing it with deadly efficacy.

More and more women are attending martial arts classes nowadays because they want more than just exercise. Health and fitness play a large part of the training, but self-defence, prevention of abuse and the mental and emotional aspects also play a large part.

In my Dojo 50% of both the adult and children participants are female. This is also reflected in the senior grade classes and the females easily show as much determination and resolve as the male participants.

There are still misogynist instructors around, but they are rapidly becoming a feature of the past as women prove themselves in class and become instructors and chief instructors in their own groups.

The way was paved in karate by people like Pauline Bindra, the first karate black belt in England and now 8th Dan and Chief Instructor of her own Shotokan association. Pauline has been followed by hundreds of female karateka rapidly climbing the black belt ladder. England has had many top world class sport karateka like Tricia Duggin who has proved herself on the world scene time and time again to be a very powerful person and able to knock out most of the male karateka around!

Any good technical martial art will suit women, they can still train in those that rely on strength and size, but will have to compete in their own category and the art will not be so suitable for self-defence. Joining an all female club or class defeats the object if you want self defence and mixed classes certainly seem to spur everyone on to train harder.

The standards for men and women should be equal with women making up with skill what they may lack in size or strength.

When looking to join a new club a woman should look for other females in the club, what their grades are, what their standard is and how many are there, as I said earlier it’s not uncommon nowadays for there to be 50% split between male and females in hard working classes and in the higher grades. It’s good to have people of the same gender in the club to aspire to.

She should look to ensure that the coaches are properly qualified and that they have an equal opportunities policy in practice and not just stuck on the wall.

karate, taekwondo, basingstoke, ladies martial arts, womens martial arts, self defence

Joining a good martial arts club gives the opportunity to take advantage of the feminine qualities that a woman has. Most clubs have a good training policy for women and treat them equal to men. The training will hone the mind, emotions and body in a progressive way for the rest of her life, something that most gyms lack with mindless repetitions of whatever the latest exercise fad is.

It’s also a great holistic lifestyle, giving new friends, new opportunities for travel and many related ways of training, exercise and the fun of investigating the orient and related cultures.

We at Shin Gi Tai positively encourage equal opportunities in the Martial Arts, there are many fine examples of women training in the Martial Arts including our own Lindsey Andrews, who is currently ranked by Karate England as the British #1 for Kata. If you are interested in learning something like Karate, Taekwondo or Kickboxing. Come and see what our ladies can teach you.

This article was written be Steve Rowe



Repetition in the Martial Arts, why do we do it.

Written by bryan. Posted in Coaching, Martial Arts skills

Basingstoke Sports Awards 2012, Ladies winners, Martial Arts, Taekwondo, Karate One of the primary methods for learning a martial art is repetition. Although our job as coaches is to make classes varied and interesting for the students, it is important that we constantly repeat particular actions, movements and sequences over and over again, which can get boring.

We have all heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, but if something is already good – why do we have to continue to go back and keep practicing the same things?


Performance Choking: an unexplained sudden drop in performance for no physical reason.

We are often expected to perform under pressure in lots of areas of life and sometimes that pressure can have a negative effect on our skill level. For example, you may find that although you know you can perform a technique, form or kata really well, when asked to demonstrate in front of a group of people it can go wrong or we forget moves. This is known as ‘choking’, it is brought on through the stress of performing under pressure and can be a coach and competitor’s worst nightmare.

How are these 2 problems related? It’s all to do with the way we learn. To be the best we can be as martial artists, whether training for self-defence or for competition, we need all movements to be instinctive. This will ensure that that we can perform to the very best of our ability, despite being under pressure – whether that pressure comes from a crowd of spectators at a competition or the threat of an attacker.   The key is to understand the learning process.


There are 2 stages of learning, these are known as Explicit and Implicit.

Explicit learning is the first stage of learning something new. It relates to how your mind processes new information when learning a task. You receive information and process it into the desired action. This action is controlled by the Prefrontal cortex in the brain. At this stage you need to focus and concentrate, putting a lot of thought into your actions. As you practice and develop through repetition the movement becomes automatic, this is the Implicit (second stage) of learning. The control for the action moves to another part of the brain called the Basal Ganglia. This part of the brain is responsible for habits which require no conscious thought (known as unconscious competence) and is a bit like working on auto-pilot, for example blinking or chewing. If you repeat the skill enough, it will become instinctive and unconscious movement. You could be thinking about something entirely different and unrelated, or be surrounded by distractions yet still be able to perform the action to the best of your ability. 

So why does it go wrong? When you are under pressure to perform well you go into a state of heightened awareness which can make you think too much about what you are doing and so switch control back from the Basal Ganglia to the Prefrontal cortex within the brain. This is turn then puts you back into ‘learning’ mode making you have to think about each and every move you make which in turn can make you ‘choke’ your performance, make mistakes and make you feel like a complete beginner all over again.

So what can you do about it?

Practice, practice, practice.  As a coach, I often hear students complain that it’s boring to repeat things so many times but without the repetition the movement will never become instinctive.

Preparation is very important to be able to perform actions whilst ignoring distraction. For the movements to become a solid unconscious ability you need to imagine the exact situation for the performance when you practice, just like actors having dress rehearsals. For example, if you are going into competition, when you practice you need to picture in your head the surroundings you will be performing in, the way you will feel, the noise of the crowd etc etc. When practicing fighting skills you need to imagine that you are in a real situation where you need to defend yourself. Imagine all the things that could go wrong so you are prepared for any situation which could take you out of that unconscious competence. This way, if or when you find yourself in that situation you are much less likely to return to the initial learning process and be able to react better, faster and more confidently.

Test yourself by training under pressure, if performing a kata or form try turning yourself to face a different direction than usual to see if the change in visual stimulus distracts your attention. You could try holding a conversation whilst performing or listening to music.

Make sure that when you train you always do your best. If you practice and repeat movements at a lower level than you are capable of, that is how you will perform under pressure. You will train yourself at an unconscious level to perform badly so make sure you always practice good quality techniques.




By Lindsey Andrews 12th Feb 2012



Connect your feet to your hands

Written by bryan. Posted in Coaching, Martial Arts skills

On the wall in our martial arts centre in Basingstoke facing the students when they train is a list of 8 words, these 8 words represent the 8 principles that we need to fully understand to make our Martial Arts work.

The first of these words is ‘Feet’.  Our feet is our contact to the ground that we stand on and the pressure of our feet to the floor is what gives us the power and energy to stand upright and move around.  Most people usually do this mindlessly not realising that the skill as a Martial Artist starts at this point.  Each part of the foot can engage a myofascial chain up the leg, which in turn engages the body core to power the torso and arms through to the hands.

To engage the feet properly we must first stop balancing the body on the skeleton and suspend most of the body weight into the ‘body suit’ of myofascia. To do this we have to soften and connect the body core from the head down to the feet and enhance this by disengaging the joints upwards. As we then gently spiral in the feet we can feel the myofascial chains connecting upwards.

The balls of the feet engage up through the front of the thighs, the outer edges the sides of the legs, the heels the backs of the legs and the insides of the feet up the insides of the legs. All of these connect into the large muscles of the deep waist and around the spine Which can be manipulated in a highly complex and variable manner to add power up into the chest, upper back and shoulders and out through the arms to the hands.

On contact with the opponent the hands work in exactly the same manner back down to the feet.  The thumb side of the hands connect through the chest, the little finger side through the back, the heel of the hand through the underside and the upper or ‘ball’ of the hand through the forearm, the disengaging and opening of the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints and spiralling motion out through the hands whether balled or open, connects to the spiralling in the feet through the body core and legs.

The arches of the feet will pump energy as you soften, loosen and pulse from the feet, the spiralling action of the feet will bow the legs, opening the hip joints, lengthening and opening the spine, sending energy to the joining of the bowing of the lower and upper back and neck to enhance this flow out through the bowing of the chest, back and arms to the cupping in the palms of the hands.

In this way we are connecting, rooting, stabilising and empowering the entire body from extremity to extremity.  The harmony and manipulation of upper and lower body feed each other to multiply power and animation.


Martial Arts Standards Agency British Judo British Council for Chinese Martial Arts – National Governing Body The World Union of Karate Federations Shi Kon Martial Arts British Council for Chinese Martial Arts – National Governing Body

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