Sunday, January 25, 2009

Urban training: Part I

I plan to do a little photo article about how I incorporate incidental training into my otherwise sedentary work day.  The photos are ready, but I don't have time to do it right now.  

In the meantime, here's how Christopher Walken and Fatboy Slim do it*:


*Thanks to my colleague Ben Loft for showing me this.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Putting martial arts training to use

Where is martial arts training useful?
  1. On the battlefield (warfare)
  2. In "the street" (self-defence)
  3. In sporting contest (competition)
  4. At work (leadership, teamwork, strategy, negotiation)
  5. At "school" (learning, teaching, making friends, dealing with authority)
  6. At home (interacting with partner, children, parents, siblings)
  7. Everywhere (maintaining or improving health, movement, and attitude)
  8. Etc!
Can anyone reasonably say that any one arena is more important than all the others?  Maybe for a particular individual at a particular time in their life. But this will vary from person to person, and will change over time with situation and priorities.

The martial arts started with direct application of technique to dangerous situations.  The martial ways were developed to bring broader benefits to their practitioners.  

Skill and character are both valuable.

For example: Here is a report and commentary  about a nine-year-old boy with limited training who showed courage and skill to save a friend and her chihuahua from an attacking pit bull. 

Not even professional dog-catchers train specifically for that!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taking notes

It's an oldy, but a goody:  Make notes.

This year I have resolved that very soon after I attend any martial arts class run by someone other than myself, I will make notes.  In the past I have made notes, true, but only occasionally.  This year I will do it every time.

After class, usually when I get home, I jot down the main points.  Some nice aspects of this process are:
  1. My attention is not split during class (unlike e.g. making notes during a lecture)
  2. It sharpens my memory
  3. It only takes a few minutes
  4. It helps turn reflection into a habit
  5. It is transferable to day-to-day life
Interestingly, every class so far has prompted me to make at least one small page of notes.  And seminars and advanced classes have me filling pages.

Naturally, reviewing the notes later also turns out to be really useful.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Theme of the month ideas

Over at the Mokuren Dojo blog instructor Patrick Parker has committed himself to "emphasizing a different broad principle each month" when teaching his judo and aikido classes, starting with relaxation in January 2009.

I think that this is a great idea, and for my jiu-jitsu and classical judo classes I plan to trial an explicit "theme of the month" starting in February, when I re-start my class after the summer recess.

Here are some ideas for candidate monthly themes:
  • Juicy kuzushi
  • Beautiful breakfalls
  • Push and pull
  • Minimum effort, maximum effect
  • Divine alignment
  • Whole-body power
  • Sense and sensitivity
  • Do try this at home!
  • Come along, come along
  • Wriggle like a piggle; squirm like a worm
  • Groundhog month -- rejected: instead we occasionally have Groundhog day
  • Combine and conquer
  • Countermeasures
  • Striking thoughts
  • Distraction is a good thing
  • Get smarter through kata
  • Creative kata
  • Mind and body
  • Jiu-jitsu geometry: Circles, spirals and spheres
  • Jiu-jitsu comes from the sword
  • Ju, jitsu and do
  • The higher goals of judo
Ok, at one a month those should keep me going for about two years!  So I'll try to rationalize, combine and prioritize.  And report back on what I do choose each month.

As always: Comments, suggestions and requests are welcome.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What is the format of a typical Jiu-Jitsu class?

At Monash University Jiu-jitsu club the weekly class goes for two hours, including setting up and putting away equipment.  Most classes follow a format that is quite standard within our federation, and serves as a template for a typical class:
  1. Set-up: Lay out the mats, roll out the mat cover, put up the shomen, etc.
  2. Opening ceremony: Everyone sits on there knees in their official spots, ceremonial words are spoken in Japanese, there is bowing.
  3. Warm-up: No calisthenics or running, instead multiple individual break-falling exercises, which also teaches the students how to fall safely.
  4. Balance-breaking exercise (in pairs): Before you can throw someone easily, you must first break his or her balance.  This is a formal exercise that develops this capability.  A bit like dancing, but both partners get a chance to lead (and follow).
  5. Throwing practice (in pairs): Students break off into pairs.  The instructor demonstrates a throw or series of throws.  The students engage in cooperative practice, alternating throwing and being thrown.  The instructor circulates around the class between demonstrations, helping pairs of students.
  6. Restraint and control (in pairs): Similar to throwing practice, but the instructor demonstrates joint-locking and other standing grappling techniques.
  7. Groundwork practice (in pairs): Similar to the previous paired practice, but now the action takes place at ground-level.
  8. Groundwork randori (in pairs): Competitive practice in which each person tries to best his partner by applying immobilizations, arm-locks and strangulation techniques.  A double-tap indicates submission.
  9. Cool-down: Students line up in order of grade and go through a sequence of rolling break-falls.
  10. Closing ceremony: Similar to the opening ceremony, different Japanese words, more bowing.
  11. Brief Q&A: Questions, answers, and announcements
  12. Pack-up: Put everything away, get changed, go home.
Within this format there is opportunity to reinforce the foundations of the system through repeated practice, plus scope for variety and challenge.  The instructor will vary the techniques practiced in each section, and the duration of the sections from week-to-week.  

Sometimes particular training sections may be shortened omitted, so that others may be lengthened or included.  Sometimes special subjects are substituted. Examples of these include: 
  • Self-defence applications
  • Stand-up randori
  • Striking techniques
  • Pressure-point techniques
  • Weapon defences
  • Combination and counter techniques
  • Preparation for contest
  • Kata practice
  • Preparation for gradings
So there you have it.  A flexible, yet powerful structure for teaching and training Jiu-Jitsu (and classical Judo).

Friday, January 09, 2009


One of my new year's resolutions was to start reading more blogs as a way of getting inspiration for both my martial arts practice and my writing.  

In starting this I was particularly pleased to find the blogs of Mark Cook, who writes with verve and wit.  As a bonus, he is also a visual artist and adorns his posts with fun little cartoons.

Anyway, blow me down if he hasn't gone an done a cartoon of (or at least inspired by) me: 

and also added some kind words about this blog:
For those of you that don't know Daniel Prager he is a Jiu Jitsu instructor "Down Under". He was kind enough to leave a comment on my blog. This cartoon goes out to him and his crew. I don't think he can draw, but DANG the man can write. Talk about content!
Well! I am certainly flattered by the sentiment, and am honored to be the subject of a cartoon (a first for me!), but who told Mark about our secret Aussie training methods?

Anyway, I recommend stopping by Mark's blogs:
And it seems that if you leave comments, there's a chance that you too may be 'tooned.

Read this blog like a book

Here's my reading guide / table of contents for my more substantive articles:

Martial Arts and Modern Life
a blog by Dan Prager

3. Super-efficient learning

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Compassionate thinking

One of my principal teachers, Kyoshi Adam Bradshaw, teaches that the martial arts can and should develop critical, creative and compassionate thinking.
  • Creative thinking engages the imagination to see more than one option (most of the time)
  • Critical thinking includes dispassionate evaluation when choosing a course of action
  • Compassionate thinking biases us to prefer actions that prevent or reduce pain in others and ourselves
If it seems paradoxical that martial arts, whose subject matter include detailed and systematic study of methods of violence and inducing pain and injury can teach compassionate thinking, read on!

At one extreme consider the compulsively angry person who, when provoked, responds violently. Not many options there, and not much compassion either. This person is failing to use all three forms of thinking; (s)he is merely reactive.

At the other extreme is the avowed non-violent person who believes that violence is unacceptable, always. Such a person is not prepared to use violence to stop a violent aggressor even to stop serial acts of violence, and must find other means, or be reduced to being a victim or by-stander. If other means are found all is well and good, but if there is an insufficiency of creative thinking, or simply no viable alternative, (s)he may hold true to non-violence yet greater evils may result.

By contrast, the trained martial artist, familiar with the ways of violence has the option of using it as a positive action, as when Vladimir Putin -- Russian Prime Minister and 6th dan in Judo -- saved a camera crew from a charging tiger by nonchalantly picking up a tranquilizer gun and shooting it. Sure, the tiger felt some pain, but far greater suffering was averted.

Here's another story: Tai Chi instructor Arthur Rosenfeld explains how he neutralized his own road-rage by doing something nice for a guy who was stupidly honking him in a take-out line. Instead of getting into an altercation and teaching the guy a (painful) lesson, he simply paid for the guy's coffees (without telling him), and drove off. The feel-good bit is that the guy then paid for the next customer, clearly prompted by Rosenfeld's creative and compassionate action, and from there the chain continued for several hours, cheered up a lot of people, and even got reported in the media.

* * *

By training in the martial arts we can lessen the negative effects of fear and anger on our actions. We train to enable us to perform at our best -- in every sense -- in difficult and even life-threatening situations.

Australian Martial Arts Hall of Fame event 2009

This year the Australian Martial Arts Hall of Fame (AMAHOF) annual event is coming to Melbourne!

For your diaries:
7-9 August 2009

Bayview Eden Hotel
6 Queens Road
Melbourne VIC 3004
More details will be forthcoming from the AMAHOF website later in the year.

This event offers an opportunity to meet with martial artists from all around Australia (and often beyond) and to honor exceptional achievement in the martial arts.

I had meant to attend in 2007 and 2008, but each time other responsibilities conspired to stop me. Last year my master, Kancho Barry Bradshaw, was honored as the first person to be awarded Legend status (a new category in 2008) by AMAHOF, so I was extra-sorry to miss.

It will be the first time for AMAHOF in Melbourne and I will definitely be attending. It is being organized by Kancho Bradshaw -- we are hosting! -- so expect an outstanding event and awards ceremony.

See you in August!