Dear Budo Fam,
In this issue we have a double whammy of featured martial artists: Talented 5th Dan Aikido instructor, Sensei Ben Lim, as well as young Muay Thai phenom, Star Munroe.
Each time we meet a new amazing martial artist, we become more inspired to try new styles and learn as much as we can in various arts. But, it can be challenging to find the right dojo. Here to help us spot some common dojo red flags is former Marine and avid martial artist, Sensei Jason Sigler. The article pertains to his experience with Karate dojos, but these flags are not bound by any particular art. If you are currently looking for a place to train, keep an eye out for these red flags!
Also, we have some good news this month: We switched our store to FREE SHIPPING in North America. No more wonky shipping charges that are nothing more than a deterrent.
We are also feverishly working on launching our summer line, so be sure to stay tuned :)
Featured Budo Brother
Ben Lim Sensei:
I have always fancied learning martial arts of different forms. As a teenager in weight training, I would learn Kung Fu and Tai Chi, and in my later years, I would learn some Jiujitsu and Karate. Finally, I started training in Aikido and would stay to specialize in the art. I am now 70 years old and pursuing my ultimate passion of teaching Aikido out of my own private studio.
The Art & Philosophy of Aikido training:
Aikido is a non combative Japanese martial art founded by the great master O Sensei in the early 20th century. It is a defensive art with a lot of flowing movements of the body to keep in harmony with the flow of the universe. It trains the mind to focus on balance, flexibility and tranquility. A student in Aikido training would want to understand some other forms of martial arts like Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, Jiujitsu and the like. Such a student will have a better concept of the Aiki form and will begin to train with soul and mind power.
In Aikido training, we focus on the 4 basic principles:
1) Keep One Point i.e. to concentrate on one's focal point maintaining the body balance throughout the body movements
2) Extend i.e. to tip the opponent's balance
3) Weight Underside i.e. stay connected to the opponent's movement as you guide him into a throw or a pin
4) Relax Completely i.e. avoid muscling but let your body fluidity do the take down of the opponent
There are many essentials for effective Aikido training. Good everyday living habits come into play, such as, making sure to get a good night's sleep. Some people take cat naps to restore energy levels, which is good if one is able to do so. It is important to eat well and get good nutrition in your diet. Above all, keep your body hydrated at all times.
One aspect of personal communication with individuals also comes into play with Aikido training. The world has so much to offer in knowledge and technology. We are living in a new, ever changing, and challenging world. The attitude of "You snooze you lose" is constantly reminding us that we need to keep up with the changing pace of the things around us. One very important thing in life that most people put the least amount of emphasis on, is their health. As we mature we constantly seek to be successful in our professions and we work diligently towards many goals, but fail miserably to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It totally defeats the whole concept of living if you can't even enjoy life in your old age.
We seek to put our heart and soul into the practice of Aikido, thereby cleansing our mind off some boggling thoughts. Aikido movements could also be practiced with meditative soothing music. We encourage students to practice with open mind by saying, "Onegaisemas" which literally means "Please teach me, or excuse me" showing mutual respect for each other. The Dojo, which is the training hall or room, is regarded as a place of students' growth in learning.
Final words to students of Aikido:
Stay and be your own self.
Keep fit, eat right.
Be courteous and be positive.
And wear a SMILE.
Skills Of The Month
Various Aikido Throws
Aikido Tanto Counters
Featured Budo Sister
For me, martial arts are not a sport that is about strength, power or speed. Yes, those are all things that can help an athlete win a fight, but those aren’t the key components that define me as a martial artist. Through the years, I have learned life skills through being a martial artist that I didn’t possess if I had not embraced martial arts or Muay Thai.
Most people don’t know about my childhood, until the age of 7, I grew up with my grandma because my mother wasn’t capable of being a mother at the time, and my father was trying to build a life so I could live with him. As a child I was very shy, I never wanted to make a wrong decision because I felt that people wouldn’t want to be a part of my life if I was wrong. This could have been brought on because I felt that I did something wrong and that’s why my mother wasn’t in my life, but this would soon change once I accepted Muay Thai as a part of me.
Fast forward a few years later and I’m a teenager living with my dad and my little sister. I was just a normal girl going to school, getting decent grades and doing the sport that all my friends did, which at the time was cheerleading/tumbling. Honestly, I was just a typical kid that was following the path of every other kid my age. This all changed once my sister and I would go watch our dad train Muay Thai after our tumbling class. Most people that get into martial arts will say they got into martial arts because they wanted to get in shape. For us it was a little different - we wanted to try Muay Thai because we fell in love with the Thai shorts; just something about the colors and designs made us want to have a pair! Our dad said the only way we get a pair is if we fight, so after getting us into a gym the next week we both had a fight 3 weeks later and we got our very first pair of Thai shorts.
Since February 2nd, 2012 when we took our first fight, we have been fighting ever since. While I was in high school nobody understood why I chose fighting as a sport, maybe because they could not see how this sport gave me a family, confidence, humility and has brought me out of my bubble that I felt trapped inside of during my younger years.
Over the years, while my sister and I have grown in this sport, we have gained fans and a Muay Thai family that support us with our endeavors. One of the things we have as a responsibility is consistently update our social media to stay relevant, there are pros and cons to this, however it has allowed me to understand different perspectives. The engagement with fans has built my social confidence, which is the contrary from when I was child.
Having to fight under all the lights with people watching me, some wanting me to do well and others not wishing for me to succeed, has somehow taught me to love the positive attention and grow thick skin against the negativity. Not everyone is going to agree with what I am doing, but this sport has shown me that it doesn’t matter how people judge me, as long as I have pure intentions and follow my heart.
I have turned down two scholarships, because I plan on turning pro in Muay Thai Kickboxing. Currently, while all my friends and everybody I know took the conventional route in life - martial arts has given me the courage to train full-time, work part-time, go to school part-time and turn pro this summer. Overall, martial arts didn’t just develop me in becoming a better fighter, but has taught me key values to be the best version of myself.
Dojo Red Flags
By Jason Sigler
Jason Sigler's Story
I began learning the martial ways in 1982 at the age of 4. Mom and Dad gave me the option of either Boy Scouts or Karate. I went with the latter, and the rest is history.
The martial arts have been a lifelong passion and pursuit for me. But if I’m being completely honest with myself, I didn’t start taking the training seriously until about the age of 12. Prior to that it was just something fun to do.
The bulk of my training comes from Tang Soo Do, Budokan Karate, and Shotokan Karate of which I hold dan ranks of 5th, 5th and 3rd respectively. While I really enjoyed everything that each organization had to offer, I wanted to focus on a more pragmatic approach to the employment of karate against real violence.
So after the better part of a decade researching, studying and training, along with a lot of collaboration with my good friend & fellow former Navy Sailor, Wolf Berg, we put together our own brand of Karate. We call it Isoshikai. Our focus is on the application of practical techniques and tactics to escape violence when self-defense fails to prevent an altercation.
Disclaimer: All of the aforementioned points are my opinion and mine alone. They in no way are a reflection of the beliefs of the Isoshikai or any of its instructors.
Dojo red flags
If you have been training in a dojo for a while now odds are you may have noticed a few things along your journey that just didn’t seem right. Nothing really jumps out in your minds eye to the specifics, but lately something is just off. On the other hand, if you’re actively seeking a dojo for either yourself or your child, the following are for you as well. I’m going to cover some of the more dominate “Red Flags” you need to be aware of before signing up for class.
12 Month Contracts With No Termination Clause:
There is no official governing body anywhere in the United States that has the authority to regulate the sales practices of any dojo. As such, schools that require the signing of a 12 month or longer contract without a termination clause do this because they fully expect that the average tenure of students especially within the children’s class to only stay for about 4-6 months before they either get bored and quit or take a temporary leave for seasonal activities like football or cheerleading. This way even if a child quits after only 4 months the school is still paid a full years tuition.
Guarantees of black belt promotion within 24 months of training:
Many schools are notorious for this. There are 10 kyu or gup grades (color belt levels) leading to the dan grades (black belt). Testing is typically done quarterly so if you’re testing every four months per the norm then you could expect to be testing for black belt at the two-and-a half year mark, but don’t get too excited. Remember, that advancing should be an achievement vice an expense. Testing may be conducted every four months but that does not mean you’re eligible every four months. With each new rank comes a vast amount of techniques that require time to learn and understand. There is also a natural aging process that has to occur before moving on to the next milestone in training. As you move up in rank it should come as no surprise that the amount of time to be spent at said grade ought to increase before finally being eligible to test for advancement to the next. A healthy timeline for the journey from 10th kyu to 1st dan should be about five years.
Sensei is always right:
I have been practicing, training, researching and studying the martial arts in one capacity of another for over thirty years. So I can say with great certainty and conviction that I know a lot about the topic of the martial arts. I will also say that while I know a great deal, I do not know everything. I have been wrong before. I’m married, which means I’m wrong all the time. But I own those wrongs and can and do admit them freely. Admitting fault is among the most mature ways that spiritual growth can be achieved as an instructor. Students are going to have questions and despite all of our studies and experiences we will not always have the answer. Also we’re not always going to make the best decisions with regard to how we conduct our classes or structure the testing etc. As instructors we are not infallible. My name is Jason it’s not Yoda. As an instructor it’s paramount that we stay out of our own way and be ever mindful that we cannot know everything.
Forced free labor:
As you move up in rank it’s pretty common for the instructor to ask you for assistance from time to time. When the instructor has you teaching the entire class for them and still charges you for tuition on the other hand is totally unacceptable, but it happens all the time. In the business world it is said that time is money and your time should not be free. If you are going to be teaching classes as a student then you should be compensated in some way. From my own experience I remember seeing a student preparing for a black belt examination in Tae Kwon Do. This student was constantly being tasked with teaching for the instructor during their class period and afterward had to teach himself the required Taeguek (forms) for the upcoming test, with no guidance from the instructor and was still expected to pay the full tuition. This business practice is totally deplorable; never the less it seems to be a common occurrence.
Buying dojo merchandise is mandatory:
Training in the martial arts is going to require some gear and equipment, yet it shouldn’t matter where it comes from so long as it functions properly and meets the uniform requirements of the dojo. If a dojo has their own pro-shop you can expect their inventory to sell at a 30% markup to what you would pay going through a supply store like Kwon or Century Martial Arts. The pro-shop is another revenue stream for the dojo. With the exception of organization patches or screen printed uniforms, mandatory purchase of dojo merchandise is a big no-no.
The instructor uses students as punching bags:
Disturbing to imagine isn’t it? Fact is, there is no governing body or organization anywhere in the world that regulates the way instructors conduct themselves the world over. More frightening still is that there are some very bad people whom own and operate a dojo in this country (the United States). Some are serious sadists and others are your typical bully either way you look at it the end result is the same. They simply beat up on their students for their own gain. Any instructor who goes out of their way to hurt you for their own amusement does not deserve your loyalty, trust or business and in all cases should be reported on grounds of abuse or professional misconduct.
There is something to be said about walking into a dojo and seeing its members dressed up in uniforms that are reminiscent of a cheesy 90’s super hero series. In my experience schools that put a heavy emphasis on how the students look usually have a very lacking technical curriculum. Also, uniforms that are adorned heavily with patches such as splits club, masters club, assistant instructor, SWAT, STAR, chevrons, weapons, etc. Schools that participate in this type of business practice often associate said patch to a “special program” that comes with an additional fee, and usually it’s a heavy one at that.
Apparent Low Standards of Excellence:
I can’t say enough about this one. I always encourage everyone considering membership to a dojo to observe about a full week of classes before even trying the “first free lesson”. Doing so will enable you to get a better feel for what this dojo is all about. A good school will have a clear curriculum which means that each day of the week class will be conducted a little differently, but everything is connected. It will give you a chance to see a more complete picture of what to expect should you decide to sign on the dotted line. You don’t have to be a long time practitioner of the martial ways to spot low standards. This is, in my opinion, the single most important red flag when it comes to selecting a dojo to align your self with.
No one ever fails an advancement test for rank:
It seems pretty commonplace in the United States to hold testing quarterly. In fact even my own dojo testing is conducted quarterly. But the problem with testing is that from what I’ve observed at every martial arts schools testing that I’ve visited in the United States I’ve never seen anyone fail a test. How it’s generally done is as follows. The instructor will announce testing to be conducted on a certain date and notify all of the candidates of the fee required prior to or after the test completion. Bear in mind too that the fee is usually pretty steep. Testing is then conducted on the specified day and miraculously everyone who tested is advanced to the next higher rank regardless of how poorly they performed. This essentially turns the advancement into an expense rather than an achievement.
Lack of lecture during class discussing philosophy, tactics, and strategy:
An aspect of martial arts training that is often over looked is the development of character. The martial arts are not only a means to ending conflict; they’re a way of life. It is a little disheartening to see so many young martial artists training as hard as they can to improve the physical aspects of their craft like strength, dexterity, and speed only to have the internal aspects such as mental affinity neglected. Gichin Funakoshi said that the primary purpose of karate is the development of character. Some of the components to this development are the virtues of humility, self-control, perseverance, and integrity. Without a focus on these qualities students quickly develop the undesirable traits of aggression, pride and arrogance. Regarding lectures on tactics and strategy. This goes back to the carpenter reference earlier. Aspects such as tactics and strategy can’t be taught through demonstration alone they have to be discussed and explained.
Special accelerated advancement programs:
There’s no other way to put this. Accelerated advancement programs are a scam and dangerous. Rushing a student through the ranks will do nothing but instill a false sense of security and often times will also inflate the students’ ego. There is a natural aging process that every student must mature through in order to achieve the necessary understanding of the requirements of the rank, kyu or gup to which a student is advancing. There are no shortcuts in the martial arts. Nor is the journey to black belt supposed to be a race. No matter what discipline you study; plan on the timeline between white belt and black belt being about five years.
Claims by the instructor of having had his hands and feet registered as lethal weapons:
There is no law anywhere in the United States, Japan, Okinawa, Korea, or China that requires you to have your hands and feet registered as lethal weapons to your local law enforcement agencies or any agency for that matter. I know the countries of mention because I’ve been to all of them, I’ve checked with the host nation laws and was actually laughed out of the Sagamihara City Hall in Japan when I made the inquiry. Any instructor who makes the claim that they have had to register as a weapon with the local or government authorities is being dishonest.