The Asian martial arts have received a tremendous amount of exposure in the past century and are now almost universally known. Meanwhile, we in the West have neglected many of our own martial arts traditions, which in some cases have fallen into obscurity—much as the Asian systems had at the end of the 19th century. The Japanese martial arts were rescued by Jigoro Kano, Gichin Funakoshi, Morihei Ueshiba and others, who modified the older martial arts techniques and combined them into curricula that would appeal to the public. Likewise, Cheng Man-ching introduced tai chi chuan, a once secret and obscure Chinese style, to America, which led to its spread around the world. Similar success stories pertain to the arts of other Asian nations.


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One reason the Asian fighting methods have flourished is they’ve changed with the times. Many were “modernized”—in other words, they were altered from methods of pure combat to means of self-improvement and spirituality, based mainly on Buddhism but also influenced by Taoism and Shintoism. Witness aikido, which borrowed extensively from the Shinto sect of Omoto-kyo, and iaido (sword drawing) and kyudo (archery), which use physical action as a form of Zen meditation. In China, Taoist styles of kung fu such as tai chi and pa kua have become physical illustrations of philosophical principles. And in Korea, the arts have been molded to reflect the Korean ideals of patriotism and sportsmanship. The above-mentioned founders wrote scores of books describing their martial arts techniques, as well as their ideas for self-improvement and spirituality. That no doubt helped spread the message of the Asian martial arts to the masses. But what of the Western martial arts, the ones that originated in the countries from which most Americans come? Do they have as much to offer the modern practitioner? It is the opinion of many that they do.

Combat Sports vs. Martial Arts

Boxing, wrestling, fencing, archery and javelin throwing are the best-known forms of Western martial-like play, and although they’re somewhat limited by safety rules, they’re still extremely effective in their own way. They are sports that haven’t developed as methods of self-improvement and spirituality to the extent the modern martial arts have, but they do teach sportsmanlike behavior and build character. This idea of sport goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that a beautiful body was as important as a sharp mind. Sportsmanship is concerned with fairness in competition and grace in defeat. Character involves putting forth one’s best and abstaining from immediate gratification for the sake of later rewards. This Protestant-like value develops self-discipline and the ability to suppress one’s appetites, as well as the capacity to function as part of a team for the greater good, rather than pursuing personal glory and ambition. It also promotes self-sufficiency and the ability to think on one’s feet. Submitting to authority in the form of coaches and referees serves as a model for social conduct. Unfortunately, those qualities are seldom seen these days in professional and college sports. Boxing and wrestling are at least as well-known as karate and judo, and they can hold their own against any Asian striking and grappling style. They can easily be made more combative and dangerous by incorporating martial arts techniques that are considered fouls in their sports. The two sports were used for combat in the past, but the dangerous techniques were removed for the safety of the players. The fouls can be practiced as prearranged drills in much the same manner as kata from Japanese martial arts. Known as “dirty fighting,” they’re what thugs and ruffians used before the introduction of the martial arts in the mid-20th century. Bruce Lee held an extremely high opinion of the Western martial sports and drew heavily on boxing and fencing while developing jeet kune do.

Boxing

Boxing as practiced by the ancient Greeks involved minimal science. It consisted mainly of swinging- and looping-type blows and little defense other than the ability to “tough it out.” The Romans added a leather hand wrap or glove called a cestus, sometimes with metal studs to inflict more damage as their tastes grew bloodier. As boxing evolved in England, it was influenced by fencing, which added more accurate and powerful linear thrusts rather than swings, and more effective parries rather than simple blocking. The shuffling footwork of boxing is nearly identical to that of fencing, as is the use of strategy to allow one to strike a target rather than just lash out at it. It’s interesting to note that in Japan, swordsmanship also influenced aikido. The sport of bare-knuckle fighting used many methods that are no longer allowed: the “chopper,” or hammerfist strike; a technique that utilized the head to block and break the delicate bones of the opponent’s hand as well as to strike his face; and the cross-buttock throw. With the introduction of gloves and the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury, the “manly art of self-defense” developed into the “sweet science” of boxing.

Wrestling

In addition to being a type of play for children, wrestling is the most ancient and universal form of combat. Humans love to grapple and do so all over the world. There are images of wrestlers from ancient Egypt, references to it in the Bible and the continuing popularity of the Greco-Roman style (which was actually developed in France in the 1860s). Probably the most widespread and varied are the many ethnic and folk styles of wrestling. All forms of the art offer numerous skills and techniques—including takedowns and grappling techniques effected from the bottom and top positions—that are deemed valuable for street fighting. Most also include plenty of illegal techniques that can hurt and maim, which makes wrestling supremely useful in ground encounters.

Fencing

Fencing developed into the academic study of the sword and later into a sport. The sword was the preferred weapon for combat and self-defense, and its use continued even after the introduction of firearms. Military officers still carry a sword as part of their dress uniform. The tradition of dueling with the sword continued in Europe into the 20th century. Fencing parallels kendo in that it’s associated with refined people, as well as the noble ideals and higher values (chivalry, bushido) of an elite fighting class of knights. The foil is not a weapon but an instrument to learn how to fence. There are two main styles of foil fencing: the French style is refined and precise, while the Italian style is more powerful and athletic. A good foundation of foil technique is a prerequisite for learning the epee (sport version of the dueling sword, or rapier, a thrusting weapon) and then the saber (a cavalry sword mainly used for cutting while on horseback). The Italians and Hungarians are said to have developed the best saber technique. Several books about medieval and Renaissance sword fighting have been published. They’re based on solid research and reflect the combat applications rather than the sporting aspect of the weapon. There are also many translations of old sword-fighting manuals from the 12th century to the 18th century from England, Germany, Italy, France and other countries. Those manuals teach combat methods for the sword, sword and shield, two-handed sword, rapier and dagger.

Projectile Weapons

Part of most modern track-and-field events, the javelin has distant origins as a projectile weapon for hunting and waging war. It was most effectively used in combat by the ancient Romans. The weapon had a heavy wooden handle connected to the point by a thin metal shaft that would easily bend. It wasn’t necessary to pierce the opponent’s flesh; it was enough simply to get it to stick into his shield. The shaft would bend so he couldn’t throw it back, and before he could pull it out of his shield, the Roman soldier would charge with his sword drawn. The bow has been decisive in determining the outcome of battles throughout history—although Greek and Roman armies usually prevailed without depending on it. The English made effective use of it, as did the Persians and Mongolians, but the modern bow owes its development to the Turks. Archery is now practiced mostly as a sport, but bow hunting and even bow fishing remain popular. Modern special-forces operatives sometimes use bows for clandestine missions. Part of most modern track-and-field events, the javelin has distant origins as a projectile weapon for hunting and waging war. It was most effectively used in combat by the ancient Romans. The weapon had a heavy wooden handle connected to the point by a thin metal shaft that would easily bend. It wasn’t necessary to pierce the opponent’s flesh; it was enough simply to get it to stick into his shield. The shaft would bend so he couldn’t throw it back, and before he could pull it out of his shield, the Roman soldier would charge with his sword drawn. The bow has been decisive in determining the outcome of battles throughout history—although Greek and Roman armies usually prevailed without depending on it. The English made effective use of it, as did the Persians and Mongolians, but the modern bow owes its development to the Turks. Archery is now practiced mostly as a sport, but bow hunting and even bow fishing remain popular. Modern special-forces operatives sometimes use bows for clandestine missions.
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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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