Butterfly and the Martial Arts

Reflections of a Coach

It’s been a busy day so far, training at Aikido seminar with Neil Saunders Sensei, 6th Dan in Yoshinkan Aikido. It was good practice ready for Jizerka 2019 with Mustard Sensei and Thambu Sensei. I’ve sat by a lake for a few hours fishing and enjoying the wildlife and pondering the meaning of life and martial arts in particular and practicing some Tai Chi as I think about my reflections as a coach and Martial Artist. 

The Dichotomy of training

In the arts that I’ve experienced in some depth, Karate, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Aikido, Kickboxing, Boxing and Judo, the emphasis is on whole body movement rather than using just single limbs. Understanding experienced practitioners is harder, as they make it look like there is no movement, until you both touch hands.

Shotokan Karate in Basingstoke, adults KarateAs a youngster, everything was HARDER FASTER, even my Tai Chi. It wasn’t until I was mid 20s with Kanazawa Sensei, I finally ‘got’ the concept, after much consideration, of being softer and more effective. Nearly 30 years on, I’m still working on it. One day.

Some arts are labelled soft or hard. In practical terms there is, or at least, should be some hard and some soft in all arts. Albeit the proportions are different dependant upon the art. How much is enough? Just enough so it does the job in hand. You don’t need a pneumatic drill or even a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Also as a teenager and young man, I used to revel in the bruised forearms and shins from hard ‘blocking’ and striking. The concept of a block attacking your opponent’s limbs to stop them fighting you was paramount. I remember some real wars in the dojo. As I found more experienced teachers, I learnt to think about about receiving and redirect opponent’s attacks.  Thus I found that my counter strikes became more effective.. Regardless of art, you have to pressure test your skills and knowledge to see if it really works and to learn from the your partner. A good partner makes or breaks your success as a Martial Artist.


I started teaching as a 5th Kyu in Karate. I had lots of enthusiasm but little skill in technique and none in coaching. It wasn’t until closer to my black belt that I started to think about my actions and get an inkling of how little I knew. Today and I still have that feeling most days when I train. The only difference know, is I now know how little I know and understand. As a coach, it’s harder still, I need both the technical skills and pedagogical and andragogy. It’s taken me a long time to get where I am, and I suspect a lot more time to get to where I want to go to.

Shin Gi Tai Martial Arts Academy in BasingstokeA Japanese teacher once said to me ‘shut up & train.” Wise advice to follow. IF. If you reflect upon your practice and feedback from your teachers and then make adjustments to your practice. This approach is advocated by Kolb (2015) who is widely known in the sports coaching world. I was reminded that our logo illustrated this point. The ‘waves’ are illustrated as a circle because as we progress as a Martial Artist practitioner or coach, we strive to continuously consider and re-develop our knowledge and skills to reach the dream of perfection. This is the never ending journey for the Martial Artist that takes a lifetime to get close to and one in which we can enter at any stage.

My final reflections of a coach today are “There’s so much more to learn, always.”