Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Martial Arts Instruction and the Key to Being More Than a Luxury or

I speculate that a lot of current and potential clients of martial
arts schools view martial arts instruction as a luxury and/or
recreational activity paid for with "disposable income."

I propose that by expanding our thinking -and teaching the martial
arts from a broader, holistic, and more, I believe, authentic and
culturally relevant place, we can position ourselves as an
essential part of our individual community's educational services
-as opposed to a recreational, thus non-essential, activity.

The way some martial arts instructors teach their lessons minimize
the value of the martial arts, of the potential for the martial
arts to be meaningful and useful, and for the value of martial arts
instruction to be compared to, oh say, the value (in dollars and
esteem) of a college education.

These teachers don't do this on purpose, as I believe that most
serious, career martial arts teachers believe in the martial arts
-and see the long-term study of the martial arts as a life
changing, life-enhancing undertaking.

Many teachers have simply "grown up" in a martial arts educational
environment that overemphasized the physical aspects of the martial
arts, without an equal emphasis on aspects of "self-defense" that
transcend the physical realm. In addition, most instructors who,
from the mid-1980's to the present, have been involved with the
prominent educational/consulting groups in the martial arts
community, have been immersed in a culture whose primary focus is
to develop athletes into managers and/or business-people. While
business skills are vital to the school owner, the intentionally
myopic focus of the industry has not encouraged, with equal
emphasis, other educational concepts that aren't technique-based or
business or money related, but are just as essential for the
industry's health and future growth.

The problem, reiterated:

Talking the Talk
Martial arts teachers minimize the perceived value of the martial
arts by not knowing how to intelligently and effectively
communicate the core and peripheral benefits derived from the study
and practice of the martial arts.

Note that I write minimize, as I believe most teachers are
imparting valuable skills to their students, but I believe that
there is a sizable gap between the results we are getting -and the
results we could get with a revised approach.

Walking the Talk
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, most teachers are far
better at kicking, punching, and grappling than they are in seeing
the non-physical (philosophical) ideas and concepts practiced on
the mat, put into action in the world.

As an example of this, I site my own training; in the 37 years I
have been a martial artist, I have received a handful of lessons,
out of thousands, from martial arts teachers, that directly
suggested (and offered concrete examples) that behavior off the mat
was as much or more about the martial arts that the training on the
mat. I don't fault my teachers for this, but I am suggesting it is
time for us to take the martial arts out of the dojo -and into the

An Incomplete Definition
Generally speaking, martial arts teachers define their brand of
martial arts and/or self-defense in a way that is limiting and

Many teachers draw far too many imaginary lines between "what is
martial arts" and "what is life."

Most teachers can describe, in great detail, the technical
intricacies of their art, but can't offer an equally detailed
description of why the study of the martial arts is an essential
component to life, versus a non-essential one.

Part of the reason for this, is that many martial arts teachers
hold an incomplete -and almost crippling -definition of the martial
arts. They hold this viewpoint about what the martial arts "are" or
"are not" because they haven't, I believe, devised a way to
transcend the boundaries of their schools and the competitive arena
and, literally, take their martial arts training into the world.

The Solution, in part, in my opinion:

Think About Self-Defense from a New Perspective
In today's world, self defense is as much about kicks, punches, and
grappling as windshield wipers are about the performance of your
automobile. Wipers are a part of your car, an essential part in a
rain or snowstorm, but they aren't "the car."

Kicks, punches, grappling, and all the other physical
manifestations of martial arts practice are useful in the right
situation, maybe even essential, but they are not -by any stretch
of the imagination "self-defense" in its entirety.

According to the famous Mayo Clinic, the top killers of adult makes
are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, stroke, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia,
suicide, kidney disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

Now let me clarify this: We are (the martial arts industry)
supposed to OWN the "self-defense" market (they're not claiming to
teach self-defense in public schools, dance studios, football or
baseball programs, etc.), but we're not addressing -in our
classrooms, in our writing, in our advertising -the things that
actually hurt and kill people TODAY?

What kind of "self-defense" program is that? I'll answer that
question right here:

Outdated, incomplete, and inadequate.

In addition, while the list above is actually what is killing
people in developed countries, there are other issues that hurt,
maim, and kill; take conspicuous consumption or environmental
degradation or dependence on oil (and what it does to economies and
politics in oil-producing nations) or diet, apathy, ignorance,
indifference, prejudice, and anger.

I suggest that the war we are currently engaged in has already
maimed, killed, and/or physiologically damaged more people in the
last 12 months than any kick, punch, or arm-bar has in the last 100

How we go about addressing any of these issues will be have to be
tackled in other essays -but the OPPORTUNITY for martial arts
teachers to redefine "what is self-defense" and to address subjects
that are relevant to the world today, and in doing so increasing
the relevance and value of the martial arts, is undeniable. The
opportunity to provide education that improves the quality of life
for people on the planet earth -and that actually saves lives -is
here. We simply must grow up and into the idea.

When You Redefine Self Defense, You Redefine the Martial Arts,
Which Means you Redefine the Curriculum, Which Means you Redefine
the Advertising, Which Means You Redefine the VALUE of the Study of
the Martial Arts

Teach trivial pursuits -be treated as a trivial pursuit.

Teach things that are absolutely indispensable for existence, for
happiness, for peace of mind, for a world that is sustainable and
at peace and with less fear -and you acquire a new value. You
also,then, trancend the "subject matter" and teach wisdom.

The good news is that we are, I believe, not incredibly far off the
mark. It's as if we were building a house and we had all the
materials, but had them delivered to the wrong jobsite.

If any of this intrigues you -and you'd like to talk solutions and
discuss how to DO SOMETHING about making your brand of martial arts
instruction more meaningful (you would, I think, have to believe
there is "room for improvement") contact me; I am looking deeply
into the nature of martial arts instruction and self-defense.

Tom Callos;; 530-903-0286.

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