Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fostering Friendships Through Training: The Legacy Left by Tim & Jo

Recently, Tim and Joanne two of my students moved away from Canada to set up a new life for themselves in Australia. They had only been training at my dojo for 5 months, having achieved the rank of yellow belt, but in that time, they left their mark and created strong bonds through the training they did with our students and teachers.

The kind of bonds Tim and Jo created are great for development in the martial arts. They help motivate you in your training and make it easier to come to class more often, even on days when you're feeling lazy. They enhance your technical development because you feel more comfortable trying new, potentially more dangerous moves due to the high level of trust. And overall, training is just more fun when you're on the same page as the students you work with and everyone supports and encourages each others' development.

Bonds like these are often created over much longer periods of time, but Tim and Jo managed to create them in the short time they were with us. It is well worth it for anyone training in the martial arts to develop these kinds of bonds. And for dojo owners, it's great for the health of your club to encourage your students to do so.

Here's how they did it:

Friendly, Approachable Demeanor.

Whenever there were new students coming in to the dojo, Tim and Jo always introduced themselves, not necessarily waiting until they were partnered up with them to do so. They would offer words of encouragement, telling their own stories of how difficult it seemed for them when they first started, but how it gets easier. They also took an honest interest in getting to know the people they trained with.

Open Training.
Tim and Jo were regular participants during open mat time at our dojo. We offer open training 30 minutes before every class and every other Sunday for 1.5 hours. They trained hard during those periods, eager to learn a variety of skills. But, because of the casual nature of open training, they were able to get to know the people they trained with more easily than they could have during regular classes.

Free Grappling/Sparring (with the right attitude).
Free grappling and sparring require a high level of trust to get the most out of it. When you and your partner trust each other, you are more easily able to push yourselves without risking injury. This is as opposed to when there is too much ego and free grappling/sparring becomes little more than a pissing contest in which neither partner really learns much because they're too busy trying not to lose to "the other guy." Tim and Jo, on the other hand, always took a developmental approach to free grappling/sparring. They would try to work on their technique as they grappled and sparred and supported their partners' attempts to do so as well. It wasn't about winning or losing but learning. You could tell by the broad smiles on their faces, even after being tapped out.

On Tim and Jo's last day, we all went out to a pub after class to give them a send-off party. We all wished them well before they flew off to go down under. The next class after they were gone, a few students commented to me how it seemed like there was a hole left by their absence. And there is. But even more noticeable is the legacy that they left behind. Because of their dedication to doing early, and even sometimes late, training I now see more students on the mat during open training times, grappling, and laughing, and growing.

Tim and Jo: WE MISS YOU!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

15 Personal Safety Tips for Runners

I try to go running 2-3 times a week as part of my MMA training. It's easy for me to run during safe times when it's light out and there are plenty of people around because I work from home. But for many women, as the days get shorter they find it hard to run during ideal hours. And unfortunately women runners are still targeted these days by stalkers and muggers and sometimes fall victim to attacks.

I was recently interviewed for an article on self-defense for runners by They asked for some safety tips and suggestions for female runners. Here are 15 tips that I give for runners:

1. Carry I.D. or fasten your name, telephone number and blood type on the outside of your running shoes.
2. Carry a cell phone or sufficient change for a telephone call. *Remember in most areas in North America you can dial 911 for free.
3. Whenever you can, run with a dog or partner.
4. Run in areas with which you are familiar. Know what businesses are around and the location of telephones. Alter your route from time to time.
5. Write down information about your running route. Ensure that your family and trusted friends know your favourite routes.
6. Whenever possible, avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets and overgrown trails. Stay away from unlit areas at night. Avoid running near parked cars and bushes.
7. Run against the traffic so that you can observe approaching vehicles.
8. Stay alert at all times. The more aware you are, the less vulnerable you are.
9. Avoid wearing headphones; You need to be aware of your surroundings.
10. Wearing reflective material will make you more visible if you have to run before dawn or after dark.
11. Don't wear jewellery. Why tempt muggers?
12. Carry a whistle to call attention to yourself if you need help.
13. Rely on your intuition concerning suspicious persons or areas. Respond to your intuition and avoid any person or area that feels unsafe to you.
14. Don't react to verbal harassment. Use discretion in acknowledging strangers. Look directly at others and be observant, but keep your distance and keep moving.
15. During your run, if you notice anyone acting suspicious or if you are the subject of an assault (even if it is minor in nature) report it to the police immediately. Be prepared to provide the best description of the suspect as you can.

*Note: The article in states that I've been teaching martial arts in Vancouver for 15 years, but she got the information wrong. I've been training in martial arts for 15 years. I've only taught for 12, but only 3 of those years have been in Vancouver.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Bad Idea: Teaching Martial Arts to Criminal Elements

There are some martial arts schools in the greater Vancouver area that will teach anyone who walks in their doors with cash in hand. A number of gang members take interest in the martial arts (especially MMA) to learn fighting skills for obvious reasons and end up at schools that aren't too stringent about their screening process. This is short-sighted and can result in street violence being associated with these schools.

Yesterday, a male in his 20s, a gang associate, was victim to a fatal shooting outside World Extreme Fighting gym, an MMA school in Abbotsford, BC. See the complete news article.

I know that some MMA and boxing school owners have to deal with this sort of thing regularly. Some of them include the question on their waivers: "Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?" Not that people can't just lie, but by actively discouraging criminals from training with them, it sets the tone of the school. I know one school that actively advertises that police officers rent their facilities for training, hoping to discourage gang members etc from training there.

I'm lucky, because criminal types are generally pretty macho and really have no interest in learning from a woman so I don't have to deal with dodgy types looking to join my dojo. The only types of people I seem to get in any numbers are cops and doctors :).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dealing with Larger Classes

I recently started offering 4 classes per week at my Vancouver Jiu-jitsu dojo, whereas before I was only doing 3. The change was prompted by the fact that I have a second instructor who is teaching 2 of the classes for me. This is nice for me because on the days he teaches, I can train alongside my students, allowing me to work on my own skills and vice versa.

With the extra day, I decided to open up my roster to take on a few more students. I decided to still allow students to unlimited classes per week for their membership, going on the assumption that the numbers would generally distribute over the 4 days.

Now that I have the 4-day week in place, I'm finding that occasionally I'll get one big class of 14+ students, usually with a span of 4 different colour belts represented. Both the number of students and the need to teach 4 different curricula are big time eaters. As a result, I found that sometimes I wasn't getting through everything I wanted to teach like I used to and I sometimes couldn't provide as much individual guidance for the students as I liked.

To solve this problem, I decided to make some minor adjustments on days when I get that kind of turn out. If there is a 4-belt span, I'll split the class into 2 groups during curriculum demonstration and have my other instructor teach one group while I teach the other. This will speed up the demonstration process. If there are more than 14 students on the mat, both instructors will circulate to help out the students rather than having one of us train while the other teaches.

The purpose of these minor adjustments is to ensure that the students still get quality instruction and guidance, as well as adequate training time on days when we get that big a big turn out.