What’s In Your Dojo?

Okey, smarty pants, I know it’s technically NOT a Dojo. But I am using the word generically.

So, what’s in your Dojo?

I have training equipment, and our set up is a little different than most martial arts schools. First of all, we’re located in “the hood”.  My schools in DC weren’t… they were in nice neighborhoods, but I grew up in low income areas, and I feel at home here. So even though we’re doing better, I’m not going anywhere. The rent is cheap, and folks who really want good training won’t mind it at all.

Here is the outside of my school: 

Front of the School
4120 Franklin Blvd

You may notice that the front glass is blocked. That’s because I believe that good martial arts is not a spectator sport. There is a bus stop out front, and we’ve had drug sold out front, prostitutes, gang members smoking weed (I just had to get rid of two today who hung around while my girls’ class was being conducted), fights, and some folks were just bored so they would stand and watch as if they were watching TV. Plus, the neighbors used to sell drugs, and my school had gotten shot up a few times (still have the bulletholes to prove it). We need complete concentration, so our school is private, we do not take walk-ins or visitors during class hours, and we have an “appointment only” policy. It’s written on the door.

We recently got a new building owner, who will reface the front of the strip, and she has already (yuck) laid asphalt in the back. Before paving, this is what our backyard (now a parking lot) used to look like:

Striking Post III
Ignore the appliances next door, that guy got deported and the business closed...

We had a dirt lot, and two neighbors paved small plots behind their stores. At night (when they were closed) we used to send some students out back to train when we needed space. By the way, let me explain this:

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I had a telephone post cut into smaller sections that we used for striking posts. We had 6 total.

Every school should have stuff to hit. My guys “grew up” on these telephone poles. When we needed to go hard, we threw tires over them, and practiced our stick technique, kicking, and knife techniques. I ruined several of my razors-sharp blades on these tires by allowing students to use them. I didn’t realize that car tires have wires in the rubber, which will destroy a razor-sharp blade.

Our new landlord had them pulled up (I did not help them. Hmmph!) and so now I have to build striking posts for the guys to train on.

Inside, we have red-painted concrete floors (it was supposed to be temporary, but I like them), two pull-up bars, two punching bag stands, four “WaveMasters”….

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We've got a few guys who weigh over 250 lbs, so we needed a heavy duty pull up station

Btw, some of these pics were taken from a cell phone, so I apologize for the poor quality…

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One of two punching bag stands. We go through bags like water around here!
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This tire is used to train our leg attacks. Behind it is the other bag stand, with a 100 lb bag
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The other pull-up bar (got it at a yard sale). Behind it is my long weapons rack. We use staff, spears, and clubs for Tapado practice.
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The flag on the right is... oh, you should already know. On the left is the Katipunan flag.
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Pads, small sticks, and sparring gear. We are always prepared!
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Nice complements to any martial arts training program!

To your left are three important items for any martial arts program. Far left is the Brass Ring. If you do forms practice, these rings will do wonders for your strength and speed.

Next to that is a bottle of Dit Da Jow, and ointment to treat battered hands and arms. If your training program is serious, your students will be busting up their hands and arms. Keep them going with this stuff!

Finally, my fav, the ab wheel. Don’t waste money on the machines. This will kill your midsection!

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And what school isn't complete without trophies and medals? My guys are only asked to leave them with me for a week, but some have too many to take home!

 I took pictures of some of our other equipment, but for some reason, they didn’t make it to my email account from my phone, so I’ll just describe them:

  • dumbells. we’ve got a few, some adjustable, some are just the single weight ones (35, 45, 55, etc.)
  • sand bags, we use them for grip training
  • a bucket of sand (for striking practice)
  • a wrist curl bar (the kind with the rope that you attach to plates)
  • bricks (for various purposes, mostly to add weight to hand technique practice)
  • an old punching bag with two ratchet straps. we use this for throwing practice and for lifting dead weights. i used this this morning, and my upper back is still feeling it!
  • weapons, weapons and weapons!

I want my students to have access to everything they need for success. They shouldn’t need to join a gym or buy equipment to work out at home, unless they just want to (we are open 7 days a week)–whether their thing is body building or just training for skill and strength–a good school should be self-contained.

Collectively, my school over the years have lost over a ton–literally. We have had several students lose over 100 pounds, and I have had students gain 50 pounds of muscle. We have seen guys come in our school with no strength at all, no confidence, no muscular build, and leave as very strong men and women. I had a young boy, who joined extremely overweight, who is now in his first year of college on a football scholarship. We have a few students now fighting MMA and full contact kickboxing. I have had students join the military, become police officers and correction officers, become martial art teachers and fighters. I have students all over the world that came out of my tiny little school:  in Thailand, in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada… and they are excellent fighters. Not bad, for a kid who went from third world country to the hood without an education!

I know this is different from my usual posts, but I thought I’d give you the grand tour.

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Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt V

This will be a short entry, because I have one small tip that really means a lot and I want it to have its own article.

I’ve discovered after 18 years of teaching the arts in my own school, and after over 1,000 students, that the best way to teach martial arts skills is in small, manageable bites of knowledge. When I was learning, I had traditional, patient teachers who demanded diligent, focused practice and perfection. While this may not be for everyone, for the teacher who wishes the best for his students it is the only path to this level of skill.

For my own students, I began them as advanced beginners by assigning them one technique to teach, demonstrate and explain during class. This got them to recall all of the details of a technique, and often opened their eyes to mistakes that they may not have been aware that they were making themselves. Another technique I used was to take the more advanced students, and give him a lower level classmate to tutor for a small number of skills. We have done this over the years with older students teaching younger students, having the better fighters lead a sparring class, and having students with better skill in one set of techniques (like kicking, or stick sparring) teach his method to his brothers. This leads to two things: 

  1. humility and respect–everyone realizes that someone may be better than someone else at one thing, but no one has it all. it also keeps the hierarchy of skills within my student body in check
  2. camaraderie–the students become closer brothers when they share information, and this is healthy for the growth of my school and my style

Teaching skill and fighting skill are by-products of this method.

When teaching students there are several philosophies about what method is best for developing skill in the shortest amount of time.  Here are my thoughts:

  • when explaining a skill, technique or strategy to the students, give them just the basic movements, and not too much detail. as they progress, add more details and variations, but only when they are beginning to develop proficiency at what they’ve already learned
  • it is not necessary to make every correction and micro-adjustments in the beginning. again, I advocate giving a few details at a time. this allows the students to retain more of what you say
  • always prove your point with actions, not words. students will understand better when they see it, than when they are asked to envision it. especially when a student asks, “will it work if… ?”  what better way to prove it than to show it in application
  • spar with a technique to demonstrate its effectiveness, and to test and rehearse their understanding of it
  • a good idea would be to spend an entire class session on one skill, one technique, or one strategy. it really gives the students a complete understanding of the material you are teaching by focusing attention on just that item, and giving them ample time to practice it
  • always utilize enough repetitions to drill the information into their memories, and then perform more. 10 reps is not ample.
  • i like to take one week, or several consecutive class sessions to spend time on many variations or parts of a technique. often one class alone, or a few minutes of a class, will not be enough time to properly convey what you want them to learn. we have actually spent 3 months developing one technique in my school.

These lessons should be built into your instructor candidates’ training, as they will be accepting students before you know it, and they should already be very familiar with these teaching techniques.

Of course, I have more on this subject, but I will expound on them in future articles. I hope you found this entry useful!

Thank you for reading my blog!