Thursday, 6 June 2013

I'm a woman, not a small man!

Do you think that martial arts are institutionally sexist? I’m not saying that they are or that they’re not, I’m just asking the question.

I sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole when it comes to my training and the harder I think about this the squarer becomes the peg and the rounder becomes the hole! If I don’t think about it then I fit in perfectly well in my club and don’t perceive there to be any problem at all.

Have I confused you yet? The problem is when I just concentrate on learning the art of karate (or jujitsu or kobudo as I have in the past) then it all seems very relevant to me and I enjoy learning it all. BUT when I think about my own personal self-defence needs I realise that a lot of what I learn is not terribly relevant to women, or is, at least, not presented in a way that is relevant to women.

The self-defence aspect of martial arts is not sexist (at least not in a negative sense) but it is male-centric, i.e. it generally revolves around the needs of men and the self-defence scenarios that they may encounter. Women are being trained to fight like men. This is not surprising since martial arts were developed by men to teach men to fight other men. Yes, I know Wing Chun was allegedly developed by a woman but it still mainly teaches its practitioners to fight like men.

I suspect most instructors don’t think about it like this – they treat all their student’s the same (so in that sense it is not sexist) but they just treat everyone like a man – women are trained as if they are just small men.

Lots of people tell me that strength is not important to make a technique work and that most techniques can be adjusted slightly to help small people make them work on big people. I don’t doubt this (well sometimes I do) – I have witnessed small (but stocky) women throwing much bigger partners - in the artificial environment of the dojo. However would you ever advise a woman to move in for a hip throw in a real situation in the street? Isn’t it expecting a lot for a woman to execute this successfully? Doesn’t she put herself at greater risk moving into position for such a throw?

Perhaps we shouldn’t ask can this technique be altered so that a woman can do it but rather should she be taught this technique at all? Is there something more appropriate to teach her?

Is there any danger in teaching women to defend themselves like men, particularly if they don’t even realise that is what they are doing? After all, women will not be attacked like men. Men attack women differently to the way they attack other men. 

Men will often find themselves attacked in a ‘monkey brain’ scenario – they get into an argument, tempers rise, they square up to each other, a cascade of hormones is released and a fight kicks off – others may join in and the ‘multiple attacker’ scenario ensues, often in public (a bar, football ground or just in the street). The attacker(s) reigns lots of punches and possibly kicks at the defender who defends his head until he can get some sort of counter-attack in. The defender may have been verbally ‘provoked’ into the altercation but he will not have been ‘groomed’. Women don’t generally face this type of scenario.

Women face a more ‘predator-prey’ situation. There may or may not be a period of ‘grooming’ before hand, e.g. ‘chatting up’ in the pub to gain trust, followed by being separated from friends to isolate them. The attack will then happen privately away from public view, usually by being grabbed first and verbally threatened with violence if they scream. A woman may be taken to another place to be raped/murdered. Or the isolation and violence may occur in her own home by her own partner. These are worse case scenarios for most women but the ones they fear most.

Of course men and women can face similar attacks too – road rage/trolley rage attackers, car park assaults/car thefts, random street attacks by unsupervised psychotic patients etc so I’m not saying there’s no overlap at all, there clearly is but there are also many differences.

Adding to all this, women are also psychologically different to men. They differ in their experiences of violence growing up (girls tend to avoid playground fights and are more cooperative and less competitive with each other) which affects their perception of an attack and their initial response to it (women can be over-trusting of strangers but experience greater levels of paralysing fear). 

There are also physiological differences that affect the way men and women respond to an adrenaline surge. When adrenaline is released into an oestrogen environment it's effects on the female brain can result in a 'tend and befriend' response as a primary self-defence response rather than a 'fight or flight' response as happens when adrenaline is released into a testosterone environment, as in the male. This obviously has implications for how women respond to an attack and how they should be trained to deal with the initial stages of it.

The physical (generally smaller, weaker stature) and mental (more trusting but more easily frightened by real violence) differences of women compared to men make some self-defence techniques less suitable for women. For example:

·         Punching. Most women have small fists compared to most men. However hard they can hit for their size they are unlikely to inflict any damage on an adrenaline fuelled attacker, they are more likely to hurt themselves. Women are better to train with open hand techniques striking soft (vital point) targets of the body.

·         Throwing. Like I said before – just because they can doesn’t mean they should. Moving towards an attacker to position for a throw makes a woman very vulnerable to being grabbed and controlled.

·         Locks. These can be notoriously difficult to apply in a ‘fight’ situation anyway and doubly so for small female hands against the adrenaline fuelled large, strong limbs of an attacker.

·         Multiple attacker training. Apart from the very rare situation of ‘gang’ rape (more common in war zones where it is used as a weapon, but I’m not talking about war) women don’t face multiple attack scenarios so it is better to focus more on predator-prey situations.

There is a mismatch when women, training in male-centric environments, are trained to defend themselves like men when they will be attacked like women. There is a risk that they will be trained in in-effective strategies for the situations they face.

Do you agree?

Remember - I’m a woman, not a small man!

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Friday, 1 March 2013

One body, two minds.

 We often talk about the practice of budo but what exactly is budo and what is its purpose? My current understanding of budo is this:

At the heart of budo is the premise that the biggest battle we face in our lives is not with the enemy outside but that which resides within ourselves – the ego. Through hard physical training we come to know our true selves and become more able to defeat the ego. The reduction or control of ego is essential to allow our true selves to be nurtured and developed. This developing of the true self allows us to reach our full potential in our daily lives: at work, home, relationships, friendships and other activities we are involved in.

Ego is an interesting concept; it has several definitions related to the human psyche and I think that only one of them is relevant to the subject of budo. Ego is defined as:  The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves. Clearly budo is not about trying to lose one’s sense of self. Ego is also defined as: an appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem. We can all agree that self-esteem is important to our sense of self-worth and happiness and an appropriate level of pride in oneself keeps us clean and sociable, provides a desire to keep healthy and gives us motivation to do things well. So budo is not about ridding ourselves of this type of ego either. Thus it must be about the third definition: An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.

So, some ego is necessary for normal human functioning and good mental and physical health but a surfeit of ego tips over into self-importance, conceit and perhaps an unwarranted sense of entitlement – this is what the budo practitioner is trying to rid themselves of.  But why? What’s wrong with egotism? We need to answer this question because if you don’t see a problem with excess pride, vanity or an exaggerated sense of self-worth or entitlement then you’re not ready to take on the challenges of budo.

Excess ego damages both yourself and others. It damages others because ego is inherently selfish; the egotist puts his/her needs before others. The need to acquire wealth and status may be overwhelming and the egotist may become ready to lie, cheat or just display shear ruthlessness to get what they want (or think they deserve) in life. The egotist may neglect family and relationships in pursuit of personal goals leaving a trail of unhappiness behind him/her.  The egotist may also think nothing wrong with acquiring a surfeit of the world’s resources (property, money, land etc) without concern for how this may affect other people. In essence the egotist’s sense of entitlement can impact negatively on other people.

Ego is also damaging to the self because it limits the opportunity for real self-development – development of the true self. Ego lets the true self hide behind bluster and boasting; it stops you from learning new things because you already think you know them; it makes you compete with people in environments where you should be cooperating (e.g. work colleagues or even with your neighbours – got to have a better car on the drive than they do?) While your ego is busy controlling your behaviour your true self is just languishing in the background, unloved and un-nurtured.

How do we tell the difference between what is ego and what is truly us? Well, one tell-tale sign is the way we focus on tasks. Ego tends to be driven by outcomes – reaching the goal is more important than how we get there. You got the big car, big house, pots of money, pile of trophies or whatever it is you wanted and you didn’t really care what you had to do, or who you hurt to get it – that’s ego.

On the other hand the true self is driven by process – the need to do a good job regardless of reward. You do your job to the best of your ability because that is what you expect of yourself and that is what you contracted to do with your employer – seeing your company thrive or your clients happy with your service is its own reward. Working hard at your relationships – each partner giving selflessly to the other (and therefore each partner also receiving) builds a strong, happy environment in which both partners can thrive. Training hard in the dojo for the pleasure and challenge of getting better and better, revealing the courage, persistence, determination and focus needed to improve will lead to its own intrinsic rewards.

If you focus on the process the outcomes will reach themselves but more importantly your true self will have developed as you strive to learn the skills needed to do your job well, showed compassion, trust and integrity in your relationships and revealed the positive aspects of your character through hard physical training.

Does this mean that every man or woman who has a fast car, big house, well paid job or lots of trophies is an egotist? Of course not, many altruistic people who have worked hard to develop themselves and do an excellent job, showed honesty and integrity in all they do have been rewarded with good salaries that can buy some of the luxuries of life. Many of these people give back to society through philanthropic acts of generosity. For these people the process of how they lived and developed themselves was more important than achieving outcomes – the outcomes just followed.

Budo teaches you to focus on the process of training rather than the outcomes. Your ego wants the outcome (black belt, trophy, fame, recognition, money); your true-self wants simply to be the best it can in your chosen martial art and in every aspect of your life.  If positive outcomes follow then great but your true-self should not desire the outcome at any cost!

There isn’t room in your body for both the inflated ego and your true self – one of them has to go. Which will you choose?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

When is a dojo not a dojo?

……when it’s a club.

I used to think that a dojo was simply the place where you did your training, whether that is a dedicated traditional dojo, a school gym, purpose built training centre or your own basement or garage. However, it seems that a dojo is much more than just the place you train.

In Michael Clarke’s book, ‘Shin Gi Tai’ ,he makes a definite distinction between a karate dojo and a karate club. He describes a club as a commercially based entity in which students pay fees and in return receive instruction in karate to a single set syllabus from which they can be awarded ascending ranks in the shape of coloured belts as they rise up the system. They can also participate in sport karate, enter competitions and collect trophies. A club may be affiliated to a higher organisation which may be the only place where a student’s black belt is recognized.

On the other hand Michael Clarke describes a dojo as a place where you learn budo.  He states that the main way in which a dojo is distinctive from a club has...

”little to do with the architecture of the place or the way people dress for training; the distinction has everything to do with the nature of the struggle going on inside each individual.”

Budo karate involves training body, mind and spirit. It is more than just learning to do karate techniques (however well you learn to do them). It is much more about learning to understand yourself.  In Michael Clarke’s words…”Without a spirited assault on your ego, the true value of karate will remain forever beyond your reach”. A “spirited assault” involves a lot of hard, physical training, self examination and reflection as well as personal reading and research.

Budo karate is individual karate, even if done in a group. Students, who will most likely have been handpicked by the Sensei based on their suitability for budo training, will not necessarily all follow the same training programme. Training will be tailored to their individual requirements and suitability (as determined by the Sensei, not the student). This is not possible with large classes of students so karate dojo typically have only a few students. 

Another main difference is that in a dojo the student is expected to take full responsibility for their own training. By that I mean they have the responsibility to turn up on time, observe the etiquette required of them, train hard, do their own research etc. The onus is on them to make progress. Any student not doing this will be asked to leave.  It would be rare for a ‘club’ student to be asked to leave for not trying hard enough or because they fail to make progress or show any understanding of what they are doing – providing they keep paying their fees.

By the criteria described above it is clear that I belong to a karate club not a dojo. Is that a problem? Is it still possible to practice budo karate in a club environment?

It would be wrong to automatically assume that all dojos are somehow superior to all clubs. There will be good and bad dojos and good and bad clubs and it will be better to be in a good club than a bad dojo. According to Michael Clarke even Okinawa has ‘bad’ dojos set up to exploit Westerners searching for the authentic karate experience.  Getting good advice about where to go is essential to avoid this pitfall if you’re planning a trip there.

A good instructor in a karate club will take an individual interest in your training and progress if you show yourself to be keen and hard working.  This will be subtle rather than overt: a willingness to chat with you after class, lending you a book or DVD, encouraging you to attend special seminars or classes, asking you for help with teaching or a grading session (this shows he/she trusts you). A positive and close relationship can develop between student and sensei in just the same way that it does in a traditional karate dojo – if you are a committed student.

I also think that it is possible to practice budo karate even if you are in a large commercial club – as long as you know what the practice of budo really entails and are prepared to tread this path alone. After all the practice of budo is an individual and lonely path by definition so it shouldn’t matter too much what environment you train in. Most good clubs will provide hard physical training and good instructors will drive you to do your best but it’s up to you whether you do so.

Every dojo will have good students (they would be asked to leave if they weren’t good) but clubs have to cope with good and not so good students (this is actually an advantage of clubs – they are inclusive and often see ‘poor’ students evolve and mature into ‘good’ students given enough time and encouragement).  I see no reason why a dedicated student in a club environment can’t achieve the same level of skill, understanding and knowledge about karate (and themselves) as a student fortunate enough to belong to one of the rare dojos dotted around the world.  The path may be less clear and contain more obstacles to circumnavigate and the student may have to look further and wider than their own club for guidance but for a dedicated student this is not an impossibility.

Club or dojo? How much does it really matter for the committed student of budo karate?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Sport kumite - what does it teach you?

Sport kumite in is a modern 20th century Japanese addition to the original Okinawan karate. For those that choose to follow a very classical budo Way of karate the sport version represents anathema to them; to others the sport version is karate. After all why learn all those techniques if you have no arena to test them in?

For me personally I tend to swing hot and cold on the validity and worthiness of doing sport kumite. I have no interest in competing and I have philosophical objections to teaching people to ‘fight’ rather than to learn to defend themselves (more on this later). However, sport kumite is a part of our syllabus and I think there are some benefits to be gained from doing it.

There are many versions of kumite in karate so I’ll just define what I mean by sport kumite: I’m talking about minimal contact point sparring with only sparring mitts and mouth guard for protection. The aim is to score points by landing a  punch or kick on one of the target areas i.e. the abdomen, head or between the shoulder blades (kicks only) whilst preventing your opponent from scoring against you. Sweeps are allowed and points can be scored by punching the opponent when on the ground.  My analysis of sport kumite refers only to this type of sparring so if you are use to a more hard core full-contact version then your list of strengths and weaknesses may be different to mine.

The problems with sport kumite:

1.       It can teach a ‘fighting’ mindset rather than a ‘self-defence’ mindset. Fighting requires two people to consent to the ‘fight’. Both are trying to ‘win’ the bout by attacking the other person. Self-defence requires a mindset that wants to avoid fighting and does only what is necessary to avoid, prevent, de-escalate, control or escape a violent situation.

2.       It can cause confusion to the student if both classical and sport kumite are being taught side by side. I found this very confusing when I was in the junior kyu grades.  Until I understood that two different types of karate were being taught I didn’t understand why in one part of the lesson I needed to keep my feet planted firmly on the floor and punch from the hip and then later on I had to be up on my toes moving around and punching quickly without pulling back to the hip first!  I cope with it now by completely compartmentalising these two different versions of karate as if they were two different arts.

3.       It does not provide an arena for testing out skills and techniques (other than sport karate skills and techniques).  It bears no resemblance to how an encounter in real life may pan out, mainly because of the rules designed to maintain the safety of the competitors which means that most of the effective techniques are taken out.

However, though I don’t feel that sport karate bears any resemblance to a real situation and has many negative aspects that doesn’t mean that there is nothing positive and useful to be learnt from it either. I’m always the optimist and generally look for positive things to take away from any aspect of my training.

The benefits of sport karate:

1.       For many people facing an opponent in a sparring bout is the first time they’ve ever been in a ‘fight’ and had to find their courage to defend themselves. Not everyone who does martial arts has a history of getting into street fights or bar brawls as a youth or has worked as a bouncer or in the security sector. Sport kumite is as close as they've ever been to a real fight. It can take some people a while to find their courage to spar effectively with an opponent. Finding this courage is essential if you are to have the confidence to defend yourself in a real situation one day.

2.       In sport kumite, despite the relatively safe environment and limited number of techniques in use, the fight is still unpredictable and has a random element to it. This teaches you to be very aware and focused for the whole of the fight. It teaches you to react quickly and anticipate your opponent’s next move. It teaches you to look for opportunities to strike and to recognise telegraphing by your opponent and capitalise on it. You have to keep your mind empty of extraneous distracting thoughts, stay in the moment and control your aggression so that you don’t lose control of the fight.

3.       Sport kumite also teaches you to take a punch. Even in the light weight version of kumite that we do a punch can land a bit harder than intended and wind you or land on your nose which is very painful. A kick can catch you in the ribs. When this happens you have to learn to carry on despite the pain. This comes as a shock to newcomers whose instinct is often to stop once they are hurt or stop if they have hurt their opponent. However, unless the injury is quite serious the referee won’t stop the fight so you have to learn to just carry on. You can’t afford to just stop defending yourself in a real fight when you feel pain – your attacker will just carry on.

In conclusion:

I think that when one is engaged in sport kumite it is important to recognise it for what it is – sport. A real violent encounter in the real world will not resemble a sparring round in the arena and so sport kumite cannot entirely prepare you for this event (neither can any other form of martial sport e.g. boxing, wrestling, MMA etc.). However kumite does teach some skills that are essential to good self-defence – good speed and reaction times, anticipation, focus, defending your head, carrying on after being hit etc. In fact one could question how these skills could be learnt without the random element that kumite provides. Never the less, sport kumite is an incomplete package, it leaves out the techniques that are essential to controlling and/or restraining an attacker – slaps, eye rakes, vital point strikes, locks, throws, joint breaks etc. It also focuses your attention on violence and attacking rather than avoidance and escape which would be the self-defence strategies of choice. 

Though sport kumite offers something useful to the martial artist it is important to be mindful of its limitations as well. What do you think about sport kumite in karate?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Some thoughts on stances...

I've been thinking a lot about stances recently. I like to see good stances: correct feet positioning, strong bend of the correct knee (or knees), correct weight distribution, good back posture, head held up looking forward etc. Good stances look strong and stable.

Beginners find stances difficult to master; they generally lean too much with their upper torso, don’t bend their knees enough, have their feet in a line, have incorrect weight distribution or look down at the floor. I've been there; it’s hard to get it right or for it to feel natural. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get stances right and even longer to get the transitions from stance to stance smooth and quick.

A lot of people would argue that stances are for beginners or that they slow you down or are just too unnatural to be useful in real self-defence situations. I would beg to differ.

Stances are an essential part of achieving economy of movement when doing self-defence. Economy of movement is essential if you are to move swiftly around your opponent, getting yourself into advantageous positions to apply a technique, unbalance them or evade a strike. Good footwork is essential to achieving this; if you teeter around your opponent with lots of small steps, getting your legs crossed and generally wrong footing yourself you are likely to come a cropper.

Good use of stances helps you to:

…Shift your weight smoothly and quickly from one leg to the other as required.

…Maintain your own balance and stability by keeping your centre of gravity low but your posture upright.

…Unbalance your opponent either by directly using the stance to destabilise a balance point e.g. placing your knee directly behind theirs using a zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) or shiko dachi (sumo or horse stance) or more indirectly by using weight transference e.g. grabbing them and stepping back into a kokutsu dachi (back stance) or neko ashi dachi (cat stance).

…Quickly put yourself in the most advantageous and stable position to execute a restraint, takedown or throw.

…Move out of the way quickly and effortlessly if required.

Karate pays a lot of attention to stances. Most karateka will have spent many hours of their training going up and down the dojo in shiko dachi or neko ashi dashi with sensei picking up on the smallest postural transgression –“bend your knee more”, “stick your bottom in”, “turn your back foot in more”, “turn your back foot out more”, “put your weight back more”, “put your weight forward more”…….

It can all seem so picky sometimes and people will question the wisdom of needing to be so precise with your footwork and postures. After all, if you are attacked would it matter if you weren't in the perfect cat stance?

Well, yes it would matter if cat stance was integral to the technique you were trying to execute on your assailant. If your technique depended on you suddenly shifting your weight backwards, pulling your opponent off balance whilst allowing your front foot to follow through quickly with a swift snap kick and then be able to spring forward off the back leg to land a punch; then being able to instantly get into a perfect cat stance may be crucial. Failure to achieve it may leave you unable to pull your opponent off balance and with too much weight on your front leg you won’t be able to kick effectively either and if your back leg is too straight you may not be able to spring forward for that punch – that could all lead to disaster!  

Stances are more than just good footwork, they involve the whole body. Good upright posture is crucial to a good stance. Without good posture you cannot engage the core muscles properly and without the core muscles engaged you cannot get any power in your strikes. Also, with poor, bent over posture you are liable to lose your own balance and be easily pulled over by your opponent.

Stances aren’t always an integral part of a technique; sometimes the situation may require you to be lighter and quicker on your feet. Evasion may be more important than getting a technique on your opponent. The art of tai sabaki (body movement) is an exercise in good stance work, except this time the stances are higher and lighter allowing quicker movements. Tai sabaki still involves attention to posture, feet positioning, weight transference and good transitioning so it is still stance work even if you don’t choose to call it that.

I really feel that we neglect stance training at our peril. Without good stances our techniques will be weak and our movements clumsy. When you watch a senior black belt in action the thing that really stands out more than anything else is the way they move – it is precise and effortless. This is because of their use of stances; they always put their feet in exactly the right place with their weight distributed correctly and their posture upright and it all flows so smoothly and naturally.

So if your own or your student’s stances are poor and their movements clumsy get back to some formal stance training – up and down the dojo until their thighs ache; you’re actually doing them a big favour….

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at
Sue also writes a personal blog called  Journey to Black Belt

Sunday, 30 September 2012

What kind of self-defence should you teach to children?

I have been teaching children’s classes quite a lot recently. The children range in age from five to teenagers. In my school karate classes the whole class are complete beginners whereas in the club classes the children range from white belt to black belt.  This is a huge range in maturity and ability and makes teaching children very challenging.

For most children, particularly the younger or least experienced ones, it is enough for them to learn how to listen, behave and follow instructions; gain physical fitness and endurance; develop coordination and balance, and learn the most basic of karate moves and kata as well as find their courage with some light sparring skills. So, on top of all that should we be trying to teach some basic self-defence skills as well or is that expecting too much?

Can we realistically expect children to be able to defend themselves physically from a determined attacker (whether that is another child or an adult) by teaching them some escapes from grabs, strangles and headlocks; learning blocks and counter-attacks; or doing throws and locks/restraints? We don’t actually allow children to put locks on fully or grab another child near the throat anyway for obvious safety reasons so the idea that a child may actually be able to use these techniques effectively seems implausible.

My experience of teaching children suggests that they have neither the strength and coordination or understanding to effectively learn any physical self-defence techniques. In my opinion, most children are not capable of learning effective self-defence until at least in their early to mid teens; before that they are merely walking through some routines they have learnt by rote.

The problem is, to teach effective self-defence requires a certain degree of realism in both the attack and defence. This is neither possible nor desirable with children. As instructors we cannot order a child to try and hit or grab another child roughly and the child (as a minor) cannot give consent to allow this to happen to them. As adults we freely consent to both uke and tori roles and the inherent risks of injury that this entails – children cannot consent in this way.

Since we can neither teach physical self-defence skills to children in any realistic way and most children are not physically or mentally mature enough to learn them anyway, what is the point of taking children through the motions of learning such techniques?

You may argue that it is worth teaching children the basics of these self-defence techniques in the safe and unthreatening way that we do it because it helps them to develop some muscle memory and ways of moving that will make it easier for them to learn the techniques more realistically when they are older. Perhaps that is sufficient justification for doing it?

However, are there better ways of teaching children to protect themselves from harm? In my opinion most children could protect themselves from most harmful situations by learning about awareness and avoidance – ‘stranger danger knowledge’; knowing safe places to walk and play; crossing roads safely; learning to deal with playground situations non-confrontationally; anti-bullying tactics etc etc…. Most of these situations are dealt with by schools and parents anyway.

So, if a children’s martial art class isn’t dealing with awareness/avoidance strategies and doesn’t teach physical self-defence what should it be teaching? Well, in my opinion, there is much that a martial arts class can teach to children that is valuable: physical skills of balance, coordination, flexibility, and fitness; mental skills of self-discipline, perseverance, courage, respect and determination; social skills such as cooperation, friendship and compassion and sporting skills such as following rules, testing oneself in competition and learning to win and lose with good grace. These can all be learnt through the medium of some basic martial arts moves/techniques.
All we can hope is that we can maintain the child’s interest in martial arts long enough for them to grow up so that they can then learn to effectively defend themselves physically.

What do you think is the aim of a children’s martial art class? In your opinion what self-defence skills do children need?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt

Saturday, 15 September 2012

How much did your Black Belt cost?

Have you ever considered how much it has cost you to get from white belt to black belt in your martial art? Are you getting value for money or do you think your club overcharges – forcing you to jump through expensive but unnecessary hoops along the way, e.g. lots of intermediate belt gradings, compulsory attendance at expensive additional courses, lots of compulsory badges to buy, expensive grading fees, compulsory uniform only available through the club at extortionate rates etc?

I think that my club gives good value for money so I decided t sit down and calculate how much it has cost me to get from white belt to black belt:

The things I took into consideration were:

1.   Cost of lessons: It took me exactly four years to get my black belt which is 48 months. I paid for two lessons per week as part of a family membership scheme.  As there are four of us training on this membership, I divided our total fees bill over the four years by four to get the figure for just my fees.

2.   Licence fees: It is compulsory for us to pay an annual licence/insurance fee to our organisation. Again, we have a family licence scheme and so I divided the total by four.

3.   Grading fees: There were 9 kyu gradings and 1 dan grading. All grading fees include the new belt.

4.   Black/Brown belt courses: These are run by our organisation and are not compulsory except for the pre-dan course. These are run four times a year and I have attended approximately nine of them.

5.   Gis/ badges/sparring mitts/sports bag: I have bought 4 gis in total and 3 badges. We only have to wear one badge on our gi which is our organisation badge. We can order gis through our instructor who gets them at heavily discounted prices. He passes these discounts onto us so our gis cost approximately half to two-thirds the website price. I have only bought one set of sparring mitts, one gum shield and one sports bag.

Cost of lessons
Licence fees
Grading fees
Black/Brown belt courses
Gis/ badges/etc

So my black belt has cost £1577 (US $2525.25). This equates to £7.58 (US $12) per week!

However, I have been able to take advantage of generous family discounts for both my lesson fees and licence fees. So, since most people probably pay as a single member I have recalculated the figures below as if I were a single member of the club paying for 2 lessons per week:

Cost of lessons
Licence fees
Grading fees
Black/Brown belt courses
Gis/ badges/etc

As a single member in my club, training twice a week, attending the majority of Black/Brown belt courses, buying four gis and other necessary equipment and achieving black belt after 4 years (the minimum possible) it costs around £2360 (US $3783) or, put another way, about £11.35 (US $18) per week!

I think this represents good value for money, thank you Sensei! 

Have you tried calculating how much your black belt has cost?

Sue is the Blog-Editor-In-Chief for Martial News. You can contact her at Sue also writes a personal blog called My Journey to Black Belt