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Cross Training to Elevate Your Martial Arts Training

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Cross training is a way to alternate your workout routine in a way that can improve your performance, mental outlook, and essentially your overall fitness. Cross training is used by athletes of all levels. I have yet to meet a coach, doctor, or high level athlete who thought that cross training was not a good idea. The truth is that there seems to be far reaching benefits for those who incorporate cross training into their personal workout regimen.

The idea behind cross training is to elevate your performance through overall fitness, rather than training continually in the same way. Say you have consistently jogged 3 times a week for years, but then when a friend not as active as you asks you to go cross country skiing you can’t keep up. Or say you are a body builder who lifts 6+ days a week and are very strong, but then find that you are completely exhausted after a short game of tag with your kids and they aren’t even breathing hard. When you only train in one activity you can become very proficient at that activity. However, you might also realize that you are not in as good of shape as you think you are. Studies have even shown that training a lot for just one activity can increase the risk of repetitive injury.

As a Shoshin Ryu practitioner you are already cross training. You work your body and cardio through activities such as basic drills, kata, throws, ground work, and drilling self-defense techniques. Already you are working your body in a very well-rounded way, which is one reason why martial arts can be such great cross training for athletes of any other discipline. Even if you are a dedicated martial artist, though, cross training can benefit you. Besides the obvious benefits of becoming even more physically fit, it is also beneficial for your mind. If you are familiar with the path of Mastery you understand that you will spend a lot of time on a plateau during your life-time of training. Cross training can give you a different outlet to continue improving during those times that perhaps you don’t feel like you are improving with your martial arts. Perhaps it is while cross training some day that you achieve a personal best and reach a level that you didn’t think you were capable of. If you can shatter boundaries in your cross training you can surely achieve the same in your art.

There are many types of cross training. Weight lifting, cycling, running, swimming, rowing, cross fit, interval training, rock climbing, rollerblading, hiking are just a handful of the many ways you can cross train. You can stay more socially active while you hike or cycle with a friend who maybe doesn’t do martial arts, or enjoy your own training and solitude while you forge yourself through committed training. If you don’t incorporate cross training in your workouts it is something to seriously consider. If you already do incorporate cross training in your workout plan, great! Now use it as a way to not only improve your physical fitness, but also as a way to elevate your martial arts training!

Should Children Earn Black Belts in Martial Arts?

the dojo kids class

Shoshin Ryu has a pretty straight forward policy when it comes to promoting black belts. Anyone receiving a black belt must be able to defend themselves against an adult attacker.

Applying this rule to children upholds the integrity of the rank. It also reinforces the idea of putting skill above rank. Regardless of what belt a student wears around their waist, the skill is what holds value. Many martial art systems incorporate “Jr” black belts, often times awarding higher Dan (black belt) ranks to children with as little as 5 years of training. This is not only a watering down of the rank, it sends a message of lowered expectations and a false sense of security for the person who achieves these types of rank. Shoshin Ryu and the dojo would rather keep a younger student at brown belt and let them grow in size and skill. Then when the time comes to test for Shodan (1st degree black) they can both truly defend against adult attackers and be completely prepared to perform well on their black belt test. This mindset also teaches younger practitioners patience, hard work and increases the appreciation for the eventual promotion.

There have been instances where students in the dojo started as children, trained 10+ years until age 16-21 and then tested for Shodan. The result was no less (and one could surely argue much greater) than if they had received a black belt at a younger age, since it is the skill that is sought after and not simply a rank. Rank can be said to have its place in any traditional dojo, but it is NOT the goal. It is nice to have a sense of accomplishment and progression along one’s path. It is good to have a general idea of the skill level of your uke based on rank, even if you haven’t worked together before. However, the need to show off what rank you are is opposite the philosophy of Shoshin Ryu. The instant gratification culture is one that does not belong in the dojo. Students put in the work, the effort and the time. A byproduct of their training is rank. By the time a student of the dojo achieves Shodan, the elation related to the promotion is less apparent. This is at least partially due to the teachings of the Shoshin Ryu Sensei who keep the focus on the training required to achieve this milestone and the letting go of the ego and pride. Not to say that when a student does reach this level that there isn’t a sense of pride and appreciation for the work done, it’s just that it is not the emphasis of the rank itself.

Next time you hear a conversation about someone’s 9 year old child achieving a 3rd degree black belt in a martial art, realize that this is in itself an indication of what is really being taught, and that while the rank may sound impressive, it is by all means misleading and does not represent what the rank is supposed to indicate. If you are seeing increased focus, skill and attitude in your own child then you know that they are truly progressing, and that along with the physical skill there is also a mental fortitude that is being developed. A mindset that does not worry about the immediate reward of an action, but knows that through consistent training and a resolute persistence that anything can be accomplished. In the case of learning self-defense, it is the ability to defend yourself. Think on this.

The Progression of Rank in Shoshin Ryu Jujitsu

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People often ask “what is the order of belts in Shoshin Ryu”. In the adult curriculum the order is White, Yellow, Blue, Green, Brown 3, Brown 2, Brown 1 and Black. Each rank has new kata, throws, ground work techniques and added Gojinjitsu (self defense). With each rank there are added requirements in regards to proficiency in previously learned material as well as emphasis on certain types of motion. In the Shoshin Ryu curriculum concepts are interwoven throughout the belt ranks as well.

As a White belt, students are given a set of kihon (basics), a few kata, a throw and lots of gojinjitsu as well as the basics for ukemi (rolls/falls). The goal for the beginning student is to memorize the techniques, not so much to replicate them at blinding speed but rather to “know” the sequence of moves by recalling them from memory. Everything that is learned is used to provide a foundation of general motion. Knowing how to properly execute each technique, be it a strike or a kata, from the very beginning aids in the ease of learning later on in one’s path to Shodan (1st degree black belt).

Once tested and promoted to Yellow belt, the emphasis is much the same as White belt. More kata, throws, newaza (ground work) and gojinjitsu are added. Additional kihon are introduced and drilled. By this time, the student has been training for a significant time and repetition is the focus. All the curriculum learned as a White belt are still practiced with the expectation that the time it takes for the mind to recall the correct move lessens. Techniques are still coming from memory but from the viewpoint of someone watching, it may look like the techniques are instantaneous. Less effort is required to perform a throw, the rolls are more quiet and become more natural. Lines in motion become cleaner, tension is less and as a result, your body moves faster. Students feel more acclimated to the dojo and typically are less apprehensive about learning something new. Yellow belts also learn to become a better uke (attacker) during self defense and provide more realistic feedback for their partner to work with and improve.

Blue belt is when the student starts to see glimpses of muscle memory. When defending against random attacks some of the responses are being initiated before the student realizes it. The ultimate goal is to NOT to recall techniques from memory but to trust reflex. Reflex is engrained by doing the techniques over and over again. At some point, the body just moves to where it needs to be without thought. Blue belts does not necessarily require the student to incorporate reflex in all their motion (this is what brown belt ranks are for), but the student should start noticing that some of the tools they’ve been building are right there when needed. The kata that you are supposed to know are done with less thought about which foot to step with or what hand to punch with but rather how the foot moves and its relationship to center and if the punch is as efficient and powerful as it can be. Students must still commit to memory the new things they learn, but the time it takes for these moves to become more reflexive and less pulled from memory goes down. Everything is done with less effort, less time and with increased efficiency of motion.

At Green belt the student is preparing to be a brown belt. There is a higher standard as it relates to quality of motion and command of all previous techniques. Green belt is the gate-keeper rank for brown belt. Kihon should be crisp, fast and effortless. The student should understand the key points to each basic and be able to explain the details of how the technique works. Self defense is more real-time and should be effective against a real attack. Speed is emphasized as is power. The lower ranks are about where to be, Green and above are more about how to be. Throws are executed with only the bare minimal effort needed for success. Kata is done with more focus and becomes more than just moving through the sequence. Intent is introduced so that each motion is meaningful. Tiatari (blending) is introduced in order to “round out” the corners of your motion and allow you to accept the energy of an attack rather than fight it. Kihon, nage (throws) and newaza start to blend together in seamless transitions allowing for greater speed and efficiency. Green belt has additional kata, throws, newaza and gojinjitsu added on top of all the other curriculum learned up to this point. At Green belt, the student has a large amount of information and part of the challenge is not only keeping it all, but to make it all look and feel better than it was before.

Brown Belt III and II continue the emphasis of Green with more curriculum added. By this time, nothing “new” is really learned. There are more kata and throws and ground work, but the students realizes that if the previous techniques were trained properly, the “new” material is very much the same as what they already know. Things less tangible become more important. The ability to make all your techniques come from muscle memory and reflex is what is strived for. Concepts like Ma (transition) Ma-ai (distancing), breath, soft eyes and zanshin (continuing spirit) are introduced and the kata, throws, ground work and gojinjitsu become a vehicle for these concepts to be practiced. These concepts are introduced with the hopes that they manifest themselves in the students motion by the time they are ready to test for Shodan. The Shoshin Ryu practitioner will begin to understand that all motion is related and judgment about other martial arts systems goes away since there is a core understanding of root motion. The ability to make connections between different motions becomes 2nd nature. Students will choose between two weapons, bo or nitan bo during this time and begin to drill the techniques associated with each weapon.

The last belt of the Mudansha (non-black belt) ranks is Ikkyu (Brown 1). There is little new techniques introduced, the focus is on making sure all your previous training is polished and fluent. Any kata in the Mudansha curriculum can be executed on command. All throws and groundwork is understood at an expert level and be applied in numerous scenarios. All reactions are reflex based. At this point, the student can deviate from the core curriculum and start to create spontaneously without losing effectiveness. All motions are full of intent and nothing is done without a purpose. Lines in motion are direct without any wasted motion. At Brown 1 the student has everything they need to make Shodan and the time at this rank is meant to allow for fermentation of everything they know. When one tests for Shodan and passes, then, and only then, are they considered a true beginner in the martial arts. The student is now thought of as having all the tools necessary to begin learning the curriculum of the Yudansha (black belt).

Shoshin Ryu Nationals 2012

I can always expect to return from Nationals with a lot of great memories, new and renewed friendships and an inspiration to keep training hard! Having recently returned from 2012 Nationals in Wilmington, North Carolina I can gladly say that this year is no different. A huge “Thank you!” to the SR Nationals committee and to Sensei Aaron Lawrence and his dojo for organizing such a rich and memorable seminar.

The event began Wednesday, August 1st with a very informative Instructor’s Seminar. The Shoshin Ryu Board has compiled and created not only a new Instructor’s Guidebook but also a systematized certification and ranking of Shoshin Ryu instructors. Now new black belts who want to teach will not only have a new curriculum to get to Nidan, but also a curriculum to follow in their path to becoming a great teacher. The new system includes requirements like written tests, required readings, and the need to produce a certain number of new black belts, thus helping to secure the future health of Shoshin Ryu. The new Instructor’s Guidebook is full of useful information covering many areas. From starting a new dojo to how to retain students, from martial arts history to Anatomy, every sensei should be able to take something useful from this guidebook.

After dinner that night was the official bow in and that’s when the training really began to break out. Sensei Combo led the group through several self-defense techniques from both standing and on the ground with a standing opponent. Almost everything taught was simply a different way of looking at a simple basic that most folks already had. Not only were the techniques fun to train but the bigger lesson showed everyone that even the most simple basic can be so much more, if only one has the eyes to see it.

The next few days were full of training as the schedule went from 9am-9pm each day, followed of course with lots of stories and laughs in “Cabin 8” (the official name of SR Nationals post-training social gathering). We were incredibly fortunate to have both Sensei Pete Campbell from BSU Judo and Tuhon Ray Dionaldo from Filipino Combat Systems as our guest instructors. Sensei Campbell’s flavor of throws incorporate great motion, we were fortunate to have him teach daily. It was interesting to see how some of the techniques fit right into self-defense scenarios. Tuhon Ray taught some great sessions on defending against both knife and stick, as well as some knife and stick templates that really help in finding the flow of those weapons. He even showed many techniques using a traditional scarf-like piece of cloth called a sarong. If you were fortunate enough to feel Tuhon Ray put a choke on you with his sarong you saw just how quickly it could be lights out!

Along with all the great information and training we got from our guest instructors we trained lots of SR core. Sensei Bair and I both had the opportunity to teach groups in Ne Waza and Kata. With Sensei Coniaris we trained some dynamic self-defense scenarios against multiple attackers that really got the mind and body moving quickly. Sensei also gave some very informative presentations: The first day on the Glycemic Index/Glycemic load and diet, the second day on the benefits of cross-training. Soucy Sensei taught very helpful sessions on how to use the body’s anatomy and internal mechanics to make virtually every area of our art stronger.

After a great weekend of training we got to enjoy many demonstrations as is tradition at SR Nationals. Many folks took the opportunity to get up in front of the group to demonstrate some new or elevated skill they have picked up during the weekend. I considered one of the highlights to the demo by our own Jim Bongiovanni who got up and flawlessly executed several knife disarms.

Finally with the training behind us for another year we gathered at a nice restaurant in downtown Wilmington for a closing banquet that in my opinion may have had the best post-Nationals banquet dinner yet. We enjoyed the great food and each other’s company as we wound down from the weekend and discussed our plans to do it again next year. In the mean time I will be riding that wave of inspiration that always drives me after attending Nationals. It was announced that next year’s Nationals will be in Minneapolis, MN. And don’t hesitate; start preparing now because Nationals in 2014 is going to be held in JAPAN!