London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week: Watch out for the “Green Belt Phase.”

March 6, 2017

Thoughts of a Martial Arts Teacher

My original instructor, Soke Billy Fenner (7th Dan) used to have a saying. 

“If you don’t start a fight and someone attacks you, whatever happens to him is his fault.”

He would then go on to say “You also don’t want things to escalate, so you must make sure that every time he coughs or turns over in his sleep he thinks of you! That way he’ll never come back.” 

Very tough words as you might expect from a tough Liverpool docker. He had been running his own Dojo from 1958 and was already well into his sixties when I first joined his club in 1983. His technique was superb however and he always had the utmost respect from all of his students. I would have loved to have seen him when he was younger! I totally agree with his first comment and I think circumstances must play a…

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London Ju Jitsu Martial Arts Tip Of The Week:So what happens after black belt?

February 9, 2017

Thoughts of a Martial Arts Teacher

The months after gaining black belt can be difficult ones for some martial artists. After many years of hard training to get first Dan there are suddenly at least two years before they can go for second Dan and so the training lacks some of the intensity it did before for a little while. For some the lack of a goal on the immediate horizon is a little deflating and some even stop training at this point. To me this is a real shame. Let’s not forget that first Dan means first step and getting your black belt just means you’ve learned the basics!
At London Ju Jitsu the 1st Dans are encouraged to teach the Kyu grades. I believe it is honour to teach and I also believe that you owe it to your club to pass on some of the knowledge you’ve learned. Also as I’ve mentioned in…

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Kyu Grading Approaching – Time To Cram

March 18, 2014

With 5 weeks to go before the next grading I’m getting more students as they try to cram in order to get their next belt. It’s obviously nice to have a bigger turn out and nice to have them back in the club but it does make me wonder why a new belt is so important.

At London Ju Jitsu we don’t promote anyone unless they have demonstrated in the grading that they not only know the techniques in their syllabus but that we believe they have a good chance of executing those techniques in a real situation. If a student has crammed they may well be able to pass the grading but is that enough? I would like to think that it isn’t as the more practice you get the better you get at the technique but more importantly the more you understand the technique and therefore the art that you practice.

On another note those who cram for every belt are not respecting their fellow students. In my opinion they believe all of the Sensei’s attention should be on them so that they can pass their next Kyu grade but why should the dedicated students who never miss a lesson get less attention in the latter stages of a grading cycle than the ones who only turn up just before a grading? I don’t believe they should, in fact they should get more attention as a reward for their dedication.

I do understand that work and life gets in the way and it’s not always possible to train. It is strange though that these issues seem to go away the closer to a grading we get!

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

October 30, 2012

Tonight is Monday night and there was a very low turnout at class. I’ve noticed lately that attendance to the Monday class has been on a downward trend although the other night we train on in Covent Garden, London, is holding steady. Since we first opened the Covent Garden branch ten years ago this is the first time we’ve experienced this since the very early days and it’s prompted me to write about the effort the students must put in if they want to keep their club. Because let’s be honest, it is THEIR club, not the Sensei’s.

I’ve never met a good teacher who has made any real money out of teaching martial arts. I’m not saying there aren’t any, I just haven’t met them. Martial arts teachers generally teach because it’s their vocation in life. They love their art, they love to pass on their knowledge, they love to teach. Therefore if you as a student don’t put the hours in, your club will close. Even the most self sacrificing teacher won’t give up their time and energy and then in addition lose money every week. And by time I don’t just mean the hours in class. There is a lot of organisation that goes unnoticed in the background, not to mention time that could be spent with friends and family! I’ll use Covent Garden as an example. It’s right in the centre of London so the hall is expensive to hire. This means I need 10 people in order to break even. Tonight I had 6 which has cost me a lot of money. If this continues I’ll have to reduce the number of nights we train and therefore the number of gradings per year. I could of course put up prices but this not only penalises those that do come, it also runs the risk that I only teach to a wealthier group of people which is something I’ve always wanted to avoid. I love that fact that we attract students from all walks of life and I think the eclectic mix of people adds to the “personality” of the club. Even though I believe our club fees are really cheap, I sometimes get people calling who say it’s too expensive. Well I know that teachers of Yoga, Zumba and other fitness programmes, and even other martial arts have to put in a fraction of the time that I’ve put in before they teach and at the same price and more! I’ve been studying martial arts for 36 years now and Ju Jitsu for 29 years. What price is that kind of experience worth?

There are of course some instructors for whom martial arts is a business. I don’t have anything against that although I must admit that is something I’ve never wanted to do. I love it too much and if I started worrying about how many students came through the door because my mortgage payments were due then that would severely reduce my enjoyment. Even in those cases where it is a business I haven’t come across any millionaires! I also think that there are some instructors who compromise on the level needed to attain a new grade just to make sure the money keeps coming in. I’m glad to say that as I earn my living elsewhere I don’t have to make such compromises. In fact more than one student has left London Ju Jitsu because they felt they were ready for their next belt and Sensei Salur and I felt they were not. There is an argument that says that if martial arts is your business then the Sensei should be better as they have more time to hone their skills. There is some value in that and I certainly wish I had more time to devote to Ju Jitsu. In practice however it seems to me that the business model means teaching more and more children and although this may be very rewarding I think its unlikely to improve your skill.

In summary then this article is a piece of advice for all martial arts students. Don’t assume that your fellow students will go when you don’t and don’t assume that your instructor will always be there. It is YOUR club so YOU must make the effort if you want the club to still be there tomorrow. As the saying goes you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. I know a lot of my students who have moved away have told me how difficult they’ve found it to find a good club, and many of my students have said it took them a long time to find a good club in London. So wherever you live in the world, if you have a good martial arts club, appreciate it!

5th Dan Ju Jitsu Grading

September 21, 2012

5th Dan Ju Jitsu Grading

A recording of my 5th Dan Grading in Ju Jitsu. 

The clock is ticking to my 5th dan grading: Success!

March 30, 2012

I’m very proud to say that Sensei Salur Onural and I were awarded the rank of 5th Dan in Ju Jitsu by Kyoshi Mike Johnson, 8th Dan. I can honestly say that I’m honoured and humbled to have achieved this grade. It takes a minimum of 15 years to get from 1st to 5th Dan and that obviously means that there are very few who achieve this and higher grades. In my case it’s been 19 years since I achieved Shodan. As Kyoshi Mike said when awarding this rank to Sensei Salur and I, we may have got the award without going through a formal grading just for services to Budo but we instead chose to grade for it. As mentioned before in this blog series there are many reasons we chose not to go down this route. The main reason we did was that we wanted to show our students that we train just as hard if not harder than we ask them to when we’re about to take a test. The feedback we got from our students after the event led me to believe that we acheived that aim.

In addition Sensei Spencer Riley achieved the rank of 3rd Dan. I thought his grading was exemplary and Sensei Salur and I were very proud to be a part of it. Sensei Spencer had already practised Ju Jitsu for many years before his move to London and was extremely good when he arrived so we can’t take too much credit for how good he is. We are proud however that he chose London Ju Jitsu to continue his training for the last 8 years or so and of our contribution to his development.

So what next? It will of course be at least 6 years before Sensei Salur and I are eligable for 6th Dan so how do I keep motivated? One thing I do know is that I wish to continue to practice and teach Ju Jitsu until it’s physically impossible for me to do so and I hope that will be for many years yet! In previous blogs I’ve talked a lot about how much I’ve learned from teaching and how much my technique has improved by passing on my knowledge. One thing I haven’t touched on so much is that the Ju Jitsu club is like a family and for the time that the students are members they are like family members and best friends all rolled into one. We seem to be lucky in Ju Jitsu as we generally attract really nice, intelligent, well rounded people with only a slight touch of insanity. To be able to have met and had some influence on such a large number of inspirational people is much more of an honour than the number of tabs on or colour my belt. The motivation therefore comes from the students and Dan grades at the club and, even after all these years, there is never a night I wish that I was doing something else!

The clock is ticking to my 5th Dan Grading: Part 4

March 19, 2012

Yesterday was our final hard training session before our grading. It was another tough four hour session which began with 60 consecutive throws each, then Sensei Spencer and I practising Kime No Kata, 30 mins ground fighting, another 80 consecutive throws and then another 30 mins ground fighting. Sensei Ian, who has been been training almost as hard as us even though he’s not grading, unfortunately fractured his shoulder as Uke for one of Sensei Specer’s techniques. This technique has become known as “Number 11” as it’s the 11th in his sequence and is always a particulary hard fall. I have to put on record here how much we all owe to Sensei Ian Ferguson for the effort he’s put in to help us over the last year!

Next week is the grading so the remaining training sessions will not be so intense. The aim is to keep repeating the techniques and keep the muscle memory but also to allow the body to heal and ensure we have as much energy as possible for the day. I honestly don’t think we could have done much more from a training perspective and I think the techniques are as good as they can be. Of course they can ALWAYS be improved but most of the time they are as good as we as individuals can execute them. Pass or fail I think we can all be proud of the effort we’ve put in and I hope the students have been inspired by seeing us put in even more time and effort into training than they’ve had to thus far in their journey.


The clock is ticking to my 5th Dan Grading: Part 3

March 2, 2012

With four weeks to go progress is mixed. On the plus side Sensei Spencer is still alive! Last Sunday while practising Kime No Kata, I attacked Sensei Spencer with a Katana, tripped over my hakama, fell over and nearly cut him in half! Luckily his reactions were good and he got well out of the way! A comic moment looking back at it but it was a bit scary at the time. All three of us are having to practice through injuries. I severely injured Sensei Spencer’s knee when practicing drop knee Tai-Toshi a couple of weeks ago so he’s training through the pain barrier. Sensei Salur has a number of minor knocks. I have this really weird injury to my achilles. It is fine one minute (not even sore) and the next minute for no apparent reason it goes into spasm and the pain is excruciating. After a couple of minutes it’s fine again and I can carry on. I really should get it looked at! 🙂

On the plus side the fitness is getting much better. We’re all starting the class with 70 straight throws and then practising them and the other techniques in the syllabus again and again. We end the sessions with line ups and at least 30 minutes of groundfighting. We’re now training for 4 hours straight on Sunday’s so hopefully that will be enough to ensure we’re fit enough. I feel the techniques themselves are getting there but still need to be smoother and sharper. All in all I don’t think we could be doing much more so if we make it through to grading day we’ll be giving it our best shot.

I’d like to thanks all of the Dan grades in our club who are helping a lot with teaching and giving us the opportunity to train. It’s very much appreciated.

The clock is ticking to my 5th Dan grading: Another sore Sunday

February 12, 2012

I’ve just finished another three hour Ju Jitsu session and after writing this blog I’ll probably be lying on the couch for the rest of the afternoon and evening as I have done for the last few weeks. From next week however Sensei Salur, Sensei Spencer (who will be taking third dan on the same day as we take our fifth) and I will have to increase our training on Sunday’s to four hours so I’m likely to feel even worse this time next week.

As mentioned the last time I wrote, it’s very difficult to find the time to train as well as teach. Currently I teach in Covent Garden on Monday and Wednesday nights and although I get some small amount of practice for my grading during those sessions it’s only really scratching the surface. I attend Sensei Salur’s class in Tooting on Tuesday’s and Sunday’s to get my own training in  but twice a week really isn’t enough even with the extra hour or two we’re booking on a Sunday. Of course in addition I have to work a normal working week as I don’t know many martial artists who can make a decent living out of teaching. Most like myself do it because of their love for the art and barely cover costs. I have to ask for a lot of understanding in my personal life of course!

To supplement the lack of training I’m running circa 50K a week with added circuit training in the local park where they have pull  up bars and dip bars etc. No matter how much extra training you do outside the dojo however it doesn’t prepare you for Ju Jitsu and especially not a Ju Jitsu grading. There is nothing that saps the energy more in my opinion than being repeatedly slammed into the floor only to get up and do it again and again. During line ups and similar demonstrations it takes an effort to remember to breath as uke’s come flying at you one after another. During the groundwork bouts of course the opponent is trying to grapple with you with all of their strength and technique. It will be much harder on the day as the three examinees will already have been demonstrating for some time and therefore we’ll be tired by the time we begin the groundwork. As senior instructors our students will feel we are there to be shot down though so if they are asked to fight us no quarter will be asked for or given.

The training is hard but it’s also very rewarding. It’s great to be able to focus on training for something specific after the five years I’ve had to wait since fourth dan. In a lot of ways I really miss the kyu grade days when there was another grading every four to six months especially in the early grades. It keeps you focussed and it’s easier to keep fit and mentally tough when you’re focussed and therefore training hard. It also helps that you’re nearly thirty years younger of course! During this period of training I’ve felt that inner steel returning which is something that only very hard training can bring about. This inner steel is a physical and mental toughness that comes from pushing yourself when your mind and body are often telling yourself to stop. Although teaching is great and has definitely improved my technique and knowledge of Ju Jitsu, it is no substitute for hard training with a definitive goal. So even when it is hard and I have injuries and feel sore I remind myself how much I’ll miss this if I pass.

The clock is ticking to my 5th Dan grading

January 13, 2012

It’s been nearly 5 years since my 4th Dan grading and so the time is nearly upon me to grade for 5th Dan. My fellow instructor at London Ju Jitsu, Sensei Salur Onural and I have been training for  this for the last year but now we’re in the last few months it will have to be stepped up even more. Sacrifices need to be made, from a severe reduction in alcohol (in my case as Salur doesn’t drink) to turning fiancee’s/girlfriends into Ju Jitsu widows and everything in between.

If we do pass it will be another 6 years of constant training and teaching before we’ll be eligible for 6th Dan so it’s even more important to make this one as good as it can be. It’s nice to show a lot of our students who won’t have seen us grade that we actually train this hard for a grading and not just tell them too! As any teacher knows, it’s easier to lead by example but those opportunities don’t come around very often as you go up the Dan grades.

So the countdown starts now and we’re hoping for a confirmed date from our master at the end of March. My main wish at this point is to get to the grading without any major injury. When you’re training hard it’s almost inevitable that you’ll get injured. In fact last time I got 9 stitches in my leg after being stabbed with a Tanto while practicing only 8 weeks before the  grading! As always I’ve realised that there isn’t enough time left. I’ll give it my best shot though so watch this space.