How to train EFFECTIVELY

Ever heard the terms….
  • Do or die. Don’t ask why
  • Pain is weakness leaving your body
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I know I have. Many times throughout my life. I have even been a strong advocate for these kind of thinking for a long time. I was never easy on myself nor my peers and students. Even now, being good and easy on myself, to chill out, is a challenge that I face often… I guess, I’m hoping that it gets easier and easier each day. Hope…. But like anything else in life, hope is not enough… We have to train it! But how? What is the best way to train? There is so much clutter out there, so much information that you don’t know which to choose from. Hell! There is even more nonsense out there then real and good advise. Just look at my FB news feed and you’ll go “Gosh!” (Yours might be worse or better, I don’t know). But the point is that, there are a LOT of information out there and many of those are just NONSENSE! Mind me, there are still some ok ones, some good ones and occasionally a couple of great ones! So how do you know which is which? Especially if you are new to that circle? Let me explain that.
I have been teaching Martial Arts (specifically Muay Thai) for a good 15 years now. I have been training even longer. I have witness and come across instruction so bad, techniques shown that were so bad that I shake my head in fright and go like WTF? But the thing is, I only knew something was wrong because I know what is correct. But, if you are new to Muay Thai, new to Martial Arts as a whole even, you won’t have the experience nor the knowledge to know whether what you are listening to and what you are being taught is correct or not. Whether it is legit stuff or just smoke and B.S.
So here are some tips and tools to hopefully give you some grasp on what good and proper training should be like. Even when you are your own coach!

Tip no. 1

Understanding the TRIANGLE, SQUARE & CIRCLE
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The Triangle – Courage, Discipline and Perseverance
In Martial Arts, the Triangle is often used to associate with the ‘Foundations’ of learning, skill and knowledge. Specifically, picture the BASE of the triangle or pyramid. Yes. There it is. It is a wide base. Always wider than the top. The triangle is the stage where you learn and drill on the fundamentals to gain the underlying foundation of what you are going to be training for. I like to think of the lines that make the triangle as Courage, Discipline and Perseverance. The courage to start, discipline to continue and perseverance to seek new heights.
The Square – Tempering the Body and Soul
The next stage is the Square. A good way to understand and embrace this stage is that it is all about ‘Laying the Foundation’ (much like the base of the pyramid or triangle). That base on which all other things (knowledge, skill, power, technique, etc..) is going to sit on has to be strong, solid and nearly immovable. (Even mountains can get moved by the wrath of nature so nothing is truly immovable when met with the correct persistent force. Remember this for your Martial Arts training especially. Of course, that does not mean we do not train TOWARDS being immovable though). It has to be as solid as it can be because it will be the very thing that will be bearing ALL the weight that is going to be piled upon it. So take your time when it comes to building your foundation. A strong foundation will ensure that your growth will be steady and not falter easily. Cut corners or rush the building process of this foundation, then whatever that follows and is stacked atop will be destined to fall. Now does that not sound like common sense? Yes. But is it common practice? It’s hard to say. Only you will know and be able to gauge for yourself. How much is enough though? And how much is too much? Perhaps we should NEVER stop working on our foundation. THAT, I feel, should be the way. As we grow, we should always go back and check our foundation to improve on it and keep working on strengthening it so that our growth will never be hindered. It’s like building a building. As you build higher, you constantly have to check and ensure that the foundation will be able to take the weight, pressure and stress.
The Circle – Integration and Simplicity
Next comes the Circle. Hopefully most of us get to this stage. Many fail or stop at the building of their foundation (Square). “Taking too much of my time….” “It’s too difficult….” “It’s so hard….” “I can never be good at this….” “I don’t really like doing this anyway….” So many excuses used as our own justified reasons to quit our pursuits. There is always a part or time in our lives where we succumb to surrendering to the Unfinished. The ‘Bliss’ of lifting away the stress and pressures. Our task is to keep this from becoming a part of who we are. For who are we if we are not constantly being tempered and tested. Don’t just build your body, build your soul!
Those that DO make it to the Circle should already possess the correct understanding, approach and foundation. But still, many fall short of this stage. Why is that? I think, it is because, often then not, getting to this stage requires a significant degree in the mastery of the Triangle and the Square (aka Time and Patience). This is where the fusion and flow of all techniques and the application of knowledge, whether basic or advance, are put together to look like one huge seamless masterpiece. This is the stage where we start doing that. It is the door towards the path of enlightenment in your endeavor. It is recognizing, accepting and then continue working on what you might be good in whilst throughout still tempering to build up the defense to your weaknesses. It is accepting the weaknesses in yourself and being fine with it whilst still always strengthening whatever you’re already strong in. The Circle is simplicity in the most advanced levels of training. The Circle is understanding it all as a whole element. The Circle is going back to the Basics. The Circle is making a fist tighter and harder, a spear hand more relaxed yet rigid at the same time, a running stride softer and longer……
One fluid stroke from the start to the end, like an Enso.

Tip no. 2

Pick a reliable program and shut out the noise
Ever so often, after we have started something for not too long, we get susceptible to noises. Sometimes we even LOOK for them. These noises may come from your peers, family or just people around you and even so, from your social apps. Giving their version of ‘expert’ advice and experiences. Your inner voice telling you stupid contradictory things. Your inner demons telling you that you’re going nowhere and that you’re not good enough and that you should JUST QUIT. Your mind telling you it’s boring…. Blah blah blah…. and you should JUST QUIT. The thing is, sometimes we don’t even give the program a chance to be able to see any results. Take for example if you start a stretching program and only after a week, 4 hours in and you do not see any results and you think that it is going nowhere…. Even more true when you start a Martial Art. Do not expect to see anything significant the first few months even if you train daily (you will start feeling better in terms of mood though). The thing is, most of us suck at being persistent and fare even worse in our perseverance. Why? Because in this day and age, where we get impatient even with the connection speeds of the internet and the queue for our coffee, lunch or groceries, we expect and want everything to be instantaneous. And guess what? It is even more difficult when we already have to battle with all that noise around and within us. The skill to learn and truly temper, is to silent the mind and shut out the noise and just get it going. Don’t ask yourself why you should not be training or doing this program. Do not search or dig for excuses as your reasons! Heck! Try not to even ask or tell yourself why you SHOULD be doing this. Like the famous Nike quote – JUST DO IT!

Tip no. 3

Perhaps the simplest yet most difficult tip to follow. GO SLOW!
The difficult part is being able to discern what is slow against what is just being indolent. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the simplest part of training. Let us separate this into 3 parts for easy reference and understanding.
A) Pre-session –
How do I feel? This is THE Question.
How does the weather look like? The best and mostly used excuse (especially if the activity has to done outside).
Do I have enough time before my next whatever? Time. Yet another best excuse we use as a reason to keep us from moving.
Do not give in to your ‘reasons’! As long as you are NOT sick or injured, go out and get done whatever you need to get done. Go slow doesn’t mean NOT moving. So go out and DO IT!
B) During-Session –
Great! You managed to get yourself up and moving. Now comes the work. How much is good and how much is too little and how much is too much. The battle between PAIN Vs DISCOMFORT. PAIN IS WEAKNESS LEAVING YOUR BODY. Sounds so epic and cool to say. Especially cool when you use it as the title of that photo or video of yourself covered in sweat with a grimace on your face. But oh so dangerous if you do not understand it properly. What it should be is – “Pain in your mind, is weakness leaving your soul”. In your mind. Your mind is like the governor of a car. Push a little over and it may trick your body with pain signals. What you need to be able to do is to decipher the signals and analyze if it really is pain or just discomfort. Discomfort is fine, pain is not. This is where and why it is important to be IN-TUNE with your body. To KNOW yourself. To be able to LISTEN to what your body is telling you, NOT your mind. This takes a LOT of practice. So start listening!
C) After-Session –
Awesome job. You got the workout or session done. That is it right? Not really. What you put into your gut immediately after and what do you eat the rest of the time plays a really important part after your session in order for you to have optimal recovery and thus results. If your go to post-workout meal is mostly instant noodles or french fries then don’t expect your body to reward you.
Not forgetting sleep too. That is when your body does most of its repair and maintenance. You DO NOT need a Master’s Degree in anything to know that! When it is time to rest, REST. You did your work? Ok good. So REST! Don’t compare, don’t challenge. Give it time to build and you WILL get better and stronger. TRAIN, EAT, SLEEP and REST. That old adage “Sleep faster or lesser” only works if you are Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tip no. 4

Have OBJECTIVES!
Time is never more wasted than not having objectives for the time invested.
Structure has to follow fun. Yes when we work out we want it to be fun (or as fun as possible – this article is about training NOT exercising). But it’s not always fun when you want to actually get good at something. Sometimes you will have to do stuff that suck. Well, suck it up! Better still, EMBRACE THE SUCK. But even if fun is your priority (I really think it should not though), you will have to make sure that you have some sort of structure going. If not to be good at something then at least so you do not get injured and actually have done something worthwhile with that time. If you hit the weights you will have to have a structure and objectives like how many reps at what weight you gonna do… If Tuesday is upper or lower body day…. things like that. Similarly, if we talk about Martial Arts then you should have objectives like , “Today I’m gonna work on my front kick…” or “today I’ll do more defense drills….” or “today I’m gonna try to tap 3 guys out…” or “today I’ll work on this Kata or that….” and if we talk about running… then your objectives should probably be like…. “Let me hit 5km without going too fast today or within 40mins….” or “today I will try to complete 8km…” or “6 miles…..” or “today I’m going to do a fast 4 mile run…….” or “this week I’m going to clock 20 miles….” Some kind of objective is always better than none. Especially if you want to improve in whatever you are doing.
So there you are. 4 quick tips to hopefully help you have more productive training sessions in whatever it is that you do. Of course, there are a LOT more nuances within and without these 4 tips. At the end of the day, we all learn through experiences. The mistake we often make is that we wait for ourselves to have that experience, when we can look around for mistakes already being made and progress already being done and learn from these and take away and implement what works for us. In the famous words of Bruce Lee “Be water my friend”.
But remember though….. that there is never a ‘One Size Fits All’ program or approach to anything. Learn to tweak things to suit you, your life and more importantly, your emotional state. And I also think more importantly than anything else is….. DON’T BE AN ASS. ESPECIALLY to yourself.
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The big EGO

“Ego is the enemy…… and the much needed companion”

We have all heard or come across the saying “Leave your ego at the door”, especially in Martial Art gyms.

But……

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What is EGO? How can I have individuality as a human being if I do not have an ego? And without that individuality, how am I suppose to feel anything, let alone strive towards improvement or growth in the many areas of my life? Even monks have ego. That is why they are still monks. Monks are those who have decided to abstain from worldly stuff to train themselves to one day be free of ego and individuality and perhaps by doing so, to gain enlightenment. But at the moment, they still have ego. They need their ego to be willing to be on that path. They need their ego to have made the conscious decision to be on that path.

Ego, like many other things in life, has to be moderated. That is the real challenge. You cannot be void of ego and expect to be anything. The fact that you know you need a shower, or the fact that you know you’re hungry, you have ego. You have a name. You are an individual. You have ‘Self’. And with that, comes self-preservation, self-improvement, self-help, self-this and self-that. All these, stem from having ego. Living things all have an ego. The only difference between the species is how much of it, each of us exercise and how much of it we know we have.

Ego, I feel, is deeply entwined with intelligence. The more intelligence we have, the more ego ensues. So it comes with no surprise that humans with our ever growing intelligence, and over reaching egos, are both the masters of invention and progress and also the masters of our own destruction. But let’s leave this paragraph to the Sages, Professors and the Dalai Lama. For the purpose of this post, let’s just talk about ego and Martial Arts.

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To want to pick up a skill or learn something, that is a want, to improve one’s life and one’s meaning in life. Whether it is from a negative 10 to 0 or from 0 to a positive 10, it is the need spurred by one’s individuality to move away from stagnation or death by non-motion. This individuality is a part of our consciousness to make sense or find sense in the life we are living here on earth. This individuality is also sometimes known as EGO. We often hear or see the phrase “Leave your ego at the door” especially in Martial Art gyms because someone, sometime long ago, decided to blame ego for all the other attributes that make a person somewhat unfriendly or unsavory. You see, ego has many sub-components. Anything that has a ‘Self’ is but a sub-component of ego. Curiosity is part of having an ego. Stupidity is part of having an ego that may not be agreeable with common sense, ‘common’ being the operative word here. Strength is based on a ‘Self’. Hence, Strength is ego. Thoughts are fueled, provoked and influenced through one’s own ego. One’s own agenda/ego. Pride is ego. Bravery is ego. Courage is ego. Cunningness is ego. Smartness is ego. GROWTH is EGO. You need to have EGO to have GROWTH.

So what is it that made EGO something disgusted and scorned upon rather than celebrated and expected? I would say, it is the execution of a particular decision as well as the outcome of a particular decision. Back to Martial Arts….

I train hard and hardly talk to anyone. I take great pride in my having a clean and neatly ironed out uniform. I take pride in being part of the community. I always strive to be better and go harder than I was or did yesterday. I get very serious when executing techniques. I go hard every time because there is also a phrase that is seen everywhere nowadays, that rings through my head, that is to “Go hard or go home”! So I put my heart and soul into my training and tap everyone else out or knock everyone else down in a bid to be a better version of myself then I was yesterday or last week. But somehow, I get branded or viewed as having ‘too much ego’, ‘too much pride’ or ‘training with ego’. Isn’t Martial Arts about growth and attainment of some degree of wisdom through hard work? Where in the doctrines of Martial Arts did or does it say to ‘be nice’?? To be courteous yes, but to be nice? To be  nice is to never knock you down even though you tried to tear my head apart, but to be courteous simply means that I bow to you in respect and honor before I knock the shit out of you!

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But that is the problem isn’t it? We as a society are so brain washed to be nice to everybody around us even when we don’t share the same goals or values, that we end up worrying too much about how others might view us. That being nasty or honest is just against living in and scorned upon as a society. We are taught that courtesy should always come from us first and to give the other cheek if you get slapped on one (sorry not on my watch).  Having said that, we cannot deny that there are some who are just out to bully or show-off. How many times have we seen the douche who goes hard on the less skillful and smaller sparring partners but never fails to tell someone their own size or better skilled than them to “Go soft and play technical only”. Too many indeed. Contrary to believe, it is not that these people have a big ego. Neither is it because they used too much ego in their play. These are merely cowards who need something or someway to bloat or feel good about their tiny egos. You see, if I have a big enough ego, I will know where I stand, and in the constant journey to improve myself, I will know to have different objectives with different partners. How to assess my strengths and weaknesses and work on them. The only time I would be having “too much ego” will perhaps be if I think I can take on the Black belts now that I have achieved my Blue belt. As in BJJ. Now that is the moment when you might have an over-inflated ego and will probably need to be put into place.

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So you see, it is NOT about having ego that is wrong, it is more about having the wrong attitude that should be corrected. We SHOULD train with ego. Don’t leave it outside the Dojo or gym. Bring it in and work it. What SHOULD be left outside is your sense of entitlement and that ‘spoilt brat’ attitude that is so prevalent nowadays. Come train not just your skill but also your temperament and character. That is what Martial Arts and sports overall should be about.

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“The culprit that toys with our emotions”

Since I can remember, I have always had expectations; and I’m sure you do too. It is an integral part of our self, and perhaps what spurs some, if not all of our actions as a human being whose existence is only meaningful through interaction. Even if we were extreme introverts devoid of the desire for external interaction with the outside world, we will never be able to escape the clutches of “expectations” and its proliferations. From the moment we open our eyes, we start our endless flurry of expectations. Incarcerated by its sheer reach. Whether of ourselves or of others and every other facet of our lives that we come in contact with, we “expect” something. It seems like one of those words in the English vocabulary that is there to describe our psychological inner beings. Defining our existence. I believe that our expectations thus, are the sums of our life experiences that are intrinsically chiseled into how and who we are today.

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The word “Expectation” is perhaps one of the most fundamental English words known to describe our feelings and sensations. But at the same time being one of, maybe even arguably the most insidious of our descriptive mind. So how is this word a necessity? Well, its difficult not to acknowledge that it gives meaning and makes our emotional ups and downs somewhat tangible to us. There is hardly anything we do, of a cause and effect nature, which is not accompanied by expectations. It seems true that expectations are what drive our thoughts and eventually our actions.

Writing this, I would first expect someone to read it, and I would expect certain views to be formulated in your mind. And the moment you decided to click and open this link, you had already inadvertently set about your own expectations, whether or not you’re conscious of what they are. You see…. without expectations, you would not have opted to click open and read this post. And even now, expectations are raging through you and me. At this very moment, I would expect you to be making a decision on whether to continue reading or not and you would be making that decision based on whether this article is or is not what you “expected”. You and me, we are all reactors to expectations. And this is why expectations can sometimes seem insidious.

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Set your expectations too high and you may end up having to deal with disappointments. Set them too low and you might not ever have started a venture, whether it be a business or personal one. But being an integral part of the human psychology and our decision-making process, there will always be expectations. Without which, why would you even have started anything in the first place?

Did you not choose a job because you expected that it would pay more than the last or the others? Or perhaps make you happier?

Or that you were simply looking forward to the unexpected?

Did you not go for an interview because you expected that you stood a chance? Or to validate yourself that you did not stand a chance?

Or go on a blind date not knowing what “to expect”? Did you not switch the shower on expecting clear water to come running down on you?…

You get where I’m going…. So when and how does something this integral [part of our psychology] also be something, that if gone unchecked, slowly erodes at our sanity and wellness? And what puts it in check? Should it always get checked and when does it go unchecked? This is where emotions come into the picture. Emotions, it seem, are the bedrock that determines our degree of expectations. Or do we have it wrong? Can it be that it is actually the other way around…..?

What causes emotions? What makes our heart flutter, our head spin, our solar plexus feel weak or implode, our face turn red, or our body get hot? Is it just our body’s biochemical reactions to the signals firing between our neurons? Is it really just chemistry? And if so, what started this cascade of reactions? What was the cause of these reactions? What is the “big bang” that gives us feelings? What is the catalyst that evolves admiration into adoration? When we feel love, what exactly is it that we are feeling? How do we know that it is love that we are feeling and not hate or anger? How is it measured? Most probably, this is determined by how we feel. What our body feels internally. Is it butterflies in my stomach or a wrenching feeling in my gut? And what determines this state of biochemical reactions? Was it the tone used by whoever that said something to us? Was it the words used? Was it the actions of the person or the reciprocation of a device’s functions?

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When we approach someone we admire to say hello, we more or less have already determined our expectations based on various assumptions. Given, sometimes things do not “go as expected” but still, we would already have determined an expectation or a series of expectations. If we view ourselves as socially acceptable people or socially categorised as successful and good looking, we might expect a good outcome from walking over and saying hi. But on the other side of this simple spectrum, if we feel that we are socially inadequate or insecure, we would have expected a much different outcome and not make the first move altogether. Movie previews give us glimpses of the correct scenes and send our expectations through the roof, only to sometimes slam our bodies hard, back into the ground with a crappy storyline. When we purchase a new device, we would have already drawn our expectations around its functions and capability to cope with our army of apps that we already plan to download, expecting the new phone to be “up to task”. When it doesn’t quite work to our expectations, frustration sets in; and if we fail to resolve it and cannot find good support to resolve our issues with that device, frustration turns into anger. When someone walks into us rendering us off balance, we expect an apology only to sometimes receive a barrage of abusive aural effects which in turn pushes us to act in a way that would otherwise be completely anomalous. What did he “expect”?

When we come home after a long slogging day at work, we expect a welcoming sanctuary. We expect that because we want that. And times when we come home bearing bad news, whether it be as drastic as getting fired or simply losing out on a promotion or a project, we expect sympathy and acknowledgement from our partners. Apathy towards our news results in slight disappointment. Why is that? What causes anger? What causes disappointment?  What makes us feel happy? What triggers sadness? What makes us feel that we lead a meaningful life? These are just a few of the most important questions that affect our well being greatly.

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Through my personal experiences, it seems empirical that expectations are the direct contributing factors that affect and influence our emotions. An insidious spark that fires up emotions. Quietly, but undoubtedly, influencing and sometimes even overwhelming our inherent predispositions.

So…if we want to be in control of our emotions, that would mean we should consciously practice the control and management of our expectations. Often being the case, our astute deduction of outcomes stem from our expectations, which are embedded deep in our subconscious, powerfully although often imperceptibly hiding its decision and action-influencing prowess from our conscious self. And since emotions are what governs our actions, it seems a safe bet to make that if we want to lead a happier and more fulfilling life, the first and most logical step we should take, is the management and control of our expectations. And that is the true test that will enable you to transcend.

Desires –> Expectations –> Emotions

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Teacher, Instructor & Coach in Martial Arts. What is the difference?

One would think that this is a straight-forward and simple question. But I know a lot, both students and teachers/instructors/coaches, whom themselves do not use these words correctly.

To begin, let us look at the dictionary.

Instructor – a person who teaches something.

Coach – an instructor or trainer in sport.

Teacher – a person who teaches.

That’s all good but where’s the Quality for these words? What IS the Quality of these 3 words? What do they mean to you? In my opinion, these 3 words/titles mean very different things although they sometimes overlap and seem synonymous to one another.

The Quality lies in the usage of these words. So what IS the Quality that I am talking about? I would say that it is the essence, the underlying principle, the prestige, thoughts and responsibilities that come with each of these words. Let us take a look at these 3 titles closer and this time with Quality. 

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INSTRUCTOR – Someone who is qualified and trained to instruct you on techniques required in your level. On how to be able to execute moves and what to look out for in order to do certain things/movements correctly. This will be someone who should be able to give you as much instructions as possible for you to be able to do what you need to get done.

COACH – Apart from being able to instruct you on how to execute techniques or how to get certain moves down, the Coach will and should be someone who gets to know you more personally than an Instructor and who is able to bring the best out of you. Whether it being physically or mentally, the Coach should be able to advise and understand your strong points as well as your weak points so that he/she can work out a plan to help get you from point A to point B. This person usually has a plan or comes out with a plan for your growth.

TEACHER – Now this is the most important person. In Martial Arts, this title/rank means quite a lot. Apart from instructing and coaching, the ‘Teacher’ in Martial Arts also carry with it additional responsibilities and respect. In Martial Arts, the Teacher is usually also addressed as ‘Master’ or ‘Sifu’ (师父) which comprises of the word ‘teach’ and ‘father’. This goes to show the seriousness and responsibility that one bears with this title. There is a Chinese saying “一日为师,终身为父” (Yi shen wei shi, zhong shen wei fu), that literally translates to “a day as a teacher, a lifetime as a father”. In Japanese Martial Arts, the teacher is usually addressed as ‘Sensei’ (先生) which pretty much has the same value as ‘Sifu’ (师父).

There is another title that is usually associated with an honorary rank that is given or associated due to a Master’s contribution to the Martial Art and it’s growth. This rank would be ‘Shihan’ (師範) in Japanese Martial Arts and ‘Ajarhn’ in Thai Martial Arts. 

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Now let us look at these and relate them to correct use in terms of Muay Thai (since Muay Thai is my main art). When someone reaches a level of knowledge and practice to be called ‘Khru’, he/she is a Teacher. A Khru is not just a coach or an Instructor, so don’t use it lightly. When someone is addressed as an ‘Ajarhn’, he/she would be more than just a Teacher. He/She would be a Master-Teacher or Master-Instructor and would have been given that title because of his/her contributions to the Art. And yes! These are NOT titles that you give yourself! So the next time you are addressing yourself or someone who is teaching you Martial Arts, think carefully about the meaning of the word of address and if the “Quality” fits the use.

Was Bruce Lee wrong?

Styles vs Freestyle or not having a style

Are styles wrong? Or are styles just misunderstood?
When we say freestyle, what exactly do we mean? How and where does freestyle branch out from? Where is the beginning? Is it possible to be of freestyle if you didn’t have a style to begin with? And is it possible to NOT have a style? Contemplate…
This is where some make the wrong assumptions.
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If Bruce Lee faced Popeye, who will win?

Traditionalist disagree with Bruce Lee and some outrightly try to prove him wrong by their blatant showcase and display of their styles. Sort of in a “it’s my way or the highway” kind of attitude. The “freestylist” on the other hand ever too quickly and easily agrees with Bruce Lee often without much thought and/or insight. Evident in how MMA practitioners identify Bruce Lee as the father of Mixed Martial Arts. In my view, he was a great martial artist whose identity and contributions to Martial Arts have been usurped in a shamelessly commercial way to promote Mixed Martial Arts as a commercial sport which in turn helps with promotions like the UFC, OneFC and the ever growing number of smaller MMA events. But this is another argument by itself.

Are styles wrong? Or just misunderstood?

I would say in the wrong minds, styles become wrong, and to some others, styles are just misunderstood. I suppose that this understanding or misunderstanding stems from where you are, in your journey as a martial artist. What do I mean? Take for instance that the only form of combat style you have been exposed to is a certain style of Kungfu (Kungfu itself has an enormous library of forms and styles). To you this style may be the be all and end all. As they say, ignorance is bliss. To others who have had the opportunity to have been touched by several styles or other forms, may then to a fault, often try to determine their own usage of the styles they have been trained in. It is that deterministic outlook that holds them down. Making them favor a certain style. This is usually seen as having a simplistic view of what Martial Arts should really mean. Martial Arts has no distinctive form. It has applications. Martial Arts should not be objective because it is subjective. Its form is limited only by its application and purpose. Its “style” derived from its application and purpose.

So what exactly does having no style or being freestyle mean?

Let’s look at it from the perspective of what it looks like. The objectivity of styles. Here, styles don’t mean a different stroke or a kind of stroke but rather it is its sets of rules which determine the flow of strokes, the connectivity of strokes and techniques. When you see Muaythai you know its Muaythai, when you see Western Boxing or Tae Kwon Do, you know it’s Western Boxing or TKD. This is what I mean by the objectivity of styles. You know it as a set of patterns or the favoritism in the usage of certain parts of the body as a weapon or weapons.
But what about the subjectivity of styles then? Is there such a thing as a style if it is subjective? Take Muaythai for instance, Muaythai is Muaythai. It means Thai boxing. However, subjective to the different geographical parts of Thailand, they have certain differences in styles. The differences in the styles are subjective to how the art can be effectively employed. In parts where rain is prominent and the land is wet, the stance is much lower and wider so you don’t slip and fall too easily. So does that mean that they are of different styles or that they are the same styles applied differently? This is also why it kills me when people think Muay Boran and MuayThai are 2 separate and different forms or styles. The only differences are the results expected from their applications.
Being freestlye or having no style, should simply mean not being anchored by the egos of any particular way but instead understanding and using what is useful for you, based on unique factors like your body frame, your temperament during that period of learning, your strengths and weaknesses, your environment etc… Take the good stuff (what’s good for you might not be good for me) and throw away the noise (parts or theories that don’t benefit me or not realistic for my case or time). It should not be misunderstood as NOT having a style at all! You need to grow out of a seed. You need a seed. And that’s where the different styles or schools come in. They give you a start. Good or bad (there is really no bad Martial Arts. Just bad practitioners), they sow a seed in you, a seed from which you will grow into your tree of knowledge and branch out to gain even more knowledge and skill to enhance your growth. Similar to plants, how you grow and what you become is usually determined by your characteristics, state of mind and geographical environment. Much like how mangroves and cedar trees are different in their own right but began as a seed.

So is it possible to NOT have a style?

So to sum it up, I would say it is NOT possible NOT to have a style. We need and will have a style. A seed to begin our journey in Martial Arts. What we strive is to not being tied down by any rules and the applications of the styles. Through our constant learning and evolving of our knowledge, techniques and weapons, we soon develop something of OUR own “style” based on OUR needs and abilities (a little about this below). So don’t be sucked in into your own little world of your style or art that you are training in and think that being the best in your little coral environment automatically makes you the biggest bad ass of the ocean. Continue learning and ALWAYS keep an open mind.
(Sorry but I still struggle to have an open mind towards the Ki energy Masters floating on the internet who can down a man simply with a slight touch or gesture. Someone please slap them).

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Everyone wants to be Bruce Lee. Some even think they ARE.
Well Bruce lee was a lean mean fighting machine who trained up to 8 hours a day and had a side kick that was faster than my jab.
I am a man in my 40s who trains up to 2 hours a day anything between 2 to 5 days a week depending on my life’s schedule. What about you? And the thing is, given your circumstances and environment you might not need to have moves that are faster than the eye can see. So chill out and practice Martial Arts to help nurture your attributes to be the best human being you can be. Certainly DO NOT do Martial Arts just to feed your ego.
Please don’t.
Just don’t.

What’s the difference?

Martial Arts, Combat Sports, Self-Defense

What is the difference? I would say the main differences will be perspectives more than anything else. So let’s put it into perspective.

Here’s a quick look before the details –

Martial Arts : No rules. Values and code of conduct must be inculcated.

Self-Defense : No rules. Values and code of conduct not needed.

Combat Sports : Applied rules. Values not needed. Code of conduct in accordance with rules.

So how are they different? And how are they similar? (Know the term “Same same but different”? It means – they are the same thing but somewhat different at the same time… or different time) Anyway, as I was saying….

Out of the need to protect

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The need to protect one’s self, one’s family, one’s kin, one’s village, one’s country or state, one’s property, one’s way of life, one’s belongings ….. springs the evolution in the usage of one’s body, its limbs and parts into combat elements with incredible and sometimes even incredulous abilities. Right up to the building of weapons and wielding them against stronger enemies, be it in might or numbers.

Hence, the creation of self-defense (the self not necessarily limited to just “me”, “myself” or “I”) led to the formulation of Martial Arts, which then led to the start of Combat Sports (an avenue in which to test one’s fighting skills based on a set of agreed rules, – or in today’s standards, it can just mean entertainment).

Meaning to say : Self-Defense –> Martial Arts –> Combat Sports
This is what I mean by perspectives. If you were just learning how to turn your body into

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a lethal fighting machine, it’s called learning Self-Defense. In today’s world is that sufficient though? Practically yes, but ethically and responsibly? Why not? (a significant part of this lies with the teacher) The thought here however, is that, can and should one train and learn to become a lethal weapon without nurturing the proper values and virtues? Values like, hard work, discipline, perseverance, courage, humility, courtesy and so on…. And more importantly SHOULD you even be taught to become a mean fighting machine if you don’t possess or refuse to be taught traits like those above? Because this is where you get the bad guys as depicted in so many movies and shows. The ones who are well versed and seem to have an incredible aptitude for fighting but with a demented view the world. Imagine a Jack the Ripper who already possesses anatomical or surgical knowledge being highly skilled in fighting too…. scary.

Leading us to the formulation of what we know as Martial Arts. But first, what is a Martial Art? And who invented or started Martial Arts? Before we dive into that, we have to realize that just like the World, her inhabitants, particularly us homo sapiens, our beliefs, our culture and social systems, WORDS too will evolve its meanings with the times. And the word we’re interested here will be “Martial Arts”.

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Aikido class in session

Wikipedia states that “Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a number of reasons:…. The term is derived from Latin, and means “arts of Mars”, the Roman god of war….” Oxford dictionary says it’s “Various sports, which originated chiefly in Japan, Korea, and China as forms of self-defense or attack, such as judo, karate, and kendo.” My phone’s dictionary says that it’s “any of the Traditional forms of Asian self-defense….”

But here’s my take on what Martial Art is or essentially means –

The combative systems in which the study and development of turning the human body into an array of weapons is done in tandem or infused with a code of conduct and values which are necessary to train or mould a person into a “decent” (based on our culturally and socially accepted views today) human being (we used to call this “spiritual development” but it’s difficult to define as such nowadays, with science debunking the “self” and the existence of a consciousness altogether).

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The Orient has had a huge success in building a plethora of different Martial Arts schools, collectively known as the Arts of the Orient. And that is also why in today’s context when we say Martial Arts, it’s usually tagged or linked to the Orient (small in frame with slanted eyes – lol. But nevertheless deadly. Like Jet Li in Lethal Weapon). From KungFu to Wushu (know the difference? Yes, Kungfu and Wushu are different in essence) to the Arts of the Samurai and its Bushido code, it’s no wonder why so many awe at its mysteries and ways.

Ok so now that we have a good idea of what Martial Arts is. Let us get into who invented Martial Arts? Who started it? I would argue that no one did. I would say that it was Society that invented Martial Arts along with its cultures. Because the way I see it, this question is similar to asking what or who was the first man or chimpanzee who threw a stone at a threat or who or what was the first creature to use its hand or paw or wing to swipe away a nuisance or threat. Who’s to say that they didn’t have a “War Art” used in accordance with accepted values of that time in history? And why do I link Martial Arts to something that primitive and far back in our evolution? Because again who are we to say that back then it was not how “wars” were fought and what self defense meant? So to me, the word Martial Arts represents a whole history of human’s evolution in our ability to defend ourselves and used in tandem with the accepted values and virtues inculcated and a certain code of conduct at a particular time. Bringing us back to the paragraph Out of the need to protect”

But what if we look at the word Martial Arts in this view ;-

Martial = War

Therefore Martial Arts = War Art

So would it be a fair to simply state that it is a word that describes the human’s ability to train, foster, condition and teach the body and mind to have the ability to maim and kill? That’s it right? Latin or european or asian, that is what it simply means… But NO. That is NOT it! The whole point of the previous paragraphs is to illustrate that, when we say Martial Arts, it is much more than just that! Without values, Martial Arts is NOT an art. It is just fighting! For example, putting a teabag into your cup and pouring hot water into it is different from the Japanese Art of Making Tea. Effective yes. But Art? Certainly no! Taste good? That depends.

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Japanese Tea Ceremony, also called Chado, Sado, and Chanoyu

So what about Combat Sports or Fight sports then?

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The Colosseum

Well, that term describes a combative athletic activity in which a contestant wins by scoring more points than the opponent or by disabling the opponent within its rules and restrictions. By adjusting the rules and restrictions, you get different promotions and events. Examples will be Kickboxing, K1, Vale Tudo, MMA…. That’s all it is when you call it Combat Sports.

So…… If I have to sum it all up into one sentence, it will be;-

“From the necessity to defend oneself, emerged skills that were indoctrinated with values and virtues to formulate Martial Arts, leading to the creation of combat sports for the sake of entertainment and competitive play.”

In closing this post, I would like to add that, there is still so much debate I can do on this subject but the most important of all is for YOU to understand why and what you want to learn. My advise will be to do a Martial Art. Don’t just learn Self-Defense or do a “Combat Sport”. Martial Arts will teach you how to defend yourself and also inculcate into you values that are so needed in today’s World. Don’t just learn how to fight. And don’t just learn it to compete in events. Rather, compete only as a test of how much you’ve grown and to gain a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.

Musashi

Martial Arts today

Did an interview with a journalism student awhile back. One of the topics was about the difference between Traditional arts and Popular arts and I thought it’ll be good to pen my thoughts down here.
Now what do I mean by Popular arts? Ones that fall into this category are Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing and MuayThai. So why do these fall into the Popular category? In the last decade or so, the popularity of these arts have been growing at an exponential rate. With the UFC, OneFC, K1, Max Muaythai, Tyson, Pacqiao and television shows, these arts have gained a large amount of exposure to the public. Many go to fight gyms to learn these arts simply because they have heard of it and it looks fierce, effective and even cool. I call this following the trend. And this becomes a crucial deciding factor in what Arts the fight gyms offer. Mind you, I’m not saying that this is bad or anything like that. It exposes more people to Martial Arts so this is a good thing. But this is also how the values that are part of the Traditional Arts are slowly being sidelined. Although more people picking up martial arts is a good thing (some just do it so they can “say” they do a Martial Art), we must do our best to teach the arts hand in hand with its values. Without values, a Martial Art is not an art. It is just fighting.

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Photo taken from One Championship FB page https://www.facebook.com/ONEChampionship/

Also let me touch on MMA being a Martial Art. More often then not, if someone walks into your gym and the first thing they tell you is that they want to learn MMA, usually they won’t have ANY Martial Arts background at all. So why is someone without any Martial Arts background wanting to learn “MMA”? This is one of the problems with its popularity. People want to pick up MMA but they have no clue what it is. To them its an “Art” that they see in the UFC, OneFC etc… Well, news flash guys and girls, MMA is NOT a Martial Art! It is a name given to a fight sport BASED on the rules of that promotion. Good gyms know this and don’t or should never sell too many MMA Training slots. And MMA slots should only be open to students who already have a certain degree or some proficiency in a stand up striking form and/or a ground or grappling form and want to learn effective ways of transitioning from one form to the other during a fight or fusing them together. Come on! What would you expect to achieve in attending an MMA class if you don’t know a jab from a cross or a hip throw from a rear naked choke? Students who are totally new will be much better off in training a striking form and a grappling form separately until they have reached a certain proficiency before “embarking” on their MMA journey.
Bringing us to the values. Firstly since MMA is NOT a Martial Art, it HAS no values attached to it. The values that you do see, are usually because the exponents have trained in a Traditional Art or two before. MMA is a form of competition between 2 opponents who should have a certain level of proficiency in at least one stand up form and one grappling form, based on a set of rules. So it is that set of rules that MAKE MMA. NOT the art/s. The cockiness, trash talking, name calling, sometimes lack of respect is the “show business” part of MMA. Much like WWE and Boxing. I do try to believe that the Martial Artists who participate in MMA are by nature NOT as such. Martial Artists across all forms generally have a common code of conduct which includes but not limited to, discipline, humility, empathy, courage, perseverance, honor. Nowhere in martial arts are you trained or taught to be a cocky name calling douche. That is a character, sadly brought about due to the need to sell tickets for events. To put spectators in the seat.
But somehow or rather, people forget this and instructors, coaches and teachers even, sometimes forget this and get sucked into the “glory” of being in a “prestigious” event. And this is the reason why you sometimes see cocky and proud coaches who lack empathy and humility in their abilities and actions. The need to market one’s gym and be noticed within the haystack, sometimes cloud the basic character of being a Martial Artist. But why should it be such? Blame it on tv and fight promotions. People get sucked into the showbiz part of it without realizing and sometimes sadly, lose their direction in Martial Arts.

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Photo taken from One Championship FB page https://www.facebook.com/ONEChampionship/

So what makes a popular art? That depends on who the current badasses in the MMA fight community are. At this moment, most do Muaythai, Boxing for their stand up and BJJ for their grappling. And because of that, along the way, these arts lose their original character and the character of the individuals who partake in them deteriorate. So how is that happening? Why is that happening?
The main problem is NOT the art or the instructors who teach the arts. The problem lies with the public’s EXPECTATIONS of the arts. MMA has been greatly popularized as a Martial Art. Which we agree IS a good thing. But because it is also a showbiz, the character of a Martial Art is greatly misrepresented to the public. Top that up with the need to cover a gym’s overhead, so the arts are “SOLD” according to the public’s expectations.
Of course, not all are ignorant. There are still a portion of the public albeit small, whom have been in one way or another exposed to a form of Martial Art which still holds the true values and not “commercialized”. And these Martial Arts are which I categorize as the Traditional Arts. Examples would be but not limited to, Karate, Wushu/Kungfu, Judo, Aikido.

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Sensei Syed of Impact Aikido in action

Traditional Arts which until today care and emphasize more importance on the individuals learning it, then the amount of fees they need to collect to cover their overhead (this doesn’t mean they don’t have overheads or expenses to cover). And the irony is that learning these arts usually cost less then the popular arts. But still, most want to “look cool”, be “in” or have a fitness regime that isn’t boring (many view the need to build a strong foundation and time taken to do that, “Boring”) so they turn to what they know. MMA and the Popular Arts (much becoming like fast food).
Again, I am not saying that this is bad, but the reason for picking up Martial Arts then becomes the wrong reason. And the wrong reason for picking a Martial Art means you will most likely be unable to grow into nor appreciate what a Martial Art can truly offer.
This is why I feel that it is important for gyms to also offer Traditional Arts in their programs. Hopefully by balancing the popular arts and the traditional arts in the gym, the culture of the gym will be influenced by the humility of the Traditional Arts while at the same time still enjoying the effectiveness to reach the masses that the Popular Arts have at this point.

TRANSCENDENCE Martial Arts

Why or what were my reasons for choosing this name?

I wanted a name that could clearly represent what I wanted my students to embody and to articulate my experiences, beliefs and goals in Martial Arts and life.

– Rising above challenges

Transcendence Logo
Our logo

– Transcending boundaries

A part (for some it’s a large part) of our lives and time spent when we, at one time or another, have faced the necessity and thus built the ability to rise above challenges, is in our martial arts training. Small fragment in our lives when we become (consciously, sub-consciously or unconsciously) our true selves. No curtains no masks. Which although happens only a small fraction of our lives, influences a huge chunk of how we live our lives as a person. I’ve always said the same thing over and over to many of my mates and students, “there is no hiding in martial arts, especially when you’re fighting in the ring or struggling within yourself to learn a technique or training your mind and body to reach your martial goals. There is no hiding of oneself in how you face dangers, overcome barriers and triumph over adversity. You may think that you are doing a pretty good job in masking who you really are or what that heart inside you is really made of or capable of, but trust me, teachers/coaches/instructors who have dedicated their lives to teaching, instructing and helping improve their students, can see through you. You are an open book in a martial arts class. There is just no hiding.”

Farhan's fight

I for one have had to overcome certain challenges (who hasn’t? I know right?) as a full-time martial arts instructor and gym owner here in Singapore. Socially, emotionally, physically and financially. Ask any full time gym owner in Singapore. They are all facing a hard time in this career choice (in Singapore). It is not simply about putting bread on the table or keeping your students but more importantly it is about keeping that passion alive, that fire burning, so that you are able to continue enjoying imparting your knowledge and passion to your students everyday in class and in the gym while fighting to stay on your chosen path.
Bringing us to the birth of Transcendence Martial Arts. My hope is that it is not only a place that teaches Martial Arts but more importantly that the name, acts as a constant reminder to all, instructors and students. That life is not about running away, avoiding or escaping the challenges, barriers or fears that you may have, but rather, to face them and overcome them. And through the practice of Martial Arts, we aim to live up to the motto of “Rising Above”, the motto of Transcendence Martial Arts.
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An Introduction

My name is Terence Cheah. I ran a Martial Arts gym in Singapore called Transcendence Martial Arts. Love that name. “Transcendence” So much meaning and relation to how I view life and my trainings.

Master Johnnie n me
Master Johnnie Yeo

I have been a full time Muaythai coach certified under the Amateur Muaythai Association, International Federation of Muaythai Amateur and the World Muaythai Council for more then 15 years now. I have been living/chasing/paying for my passion for more than a decade now. I started my Muaythai journey at the late age of 24/25 under the tutelage of Master Johnnie of Hilltop Muaythai, whom till this very day I still regard as my teacher/father-figure.

I then furthered my training in a few training camps in Thailand before I settled down with Ajarhn Surat of Dejrat camp in Bangkok who’s training style was/is very similar to Master Johnnie’s. I had dedicated a solid 8 years to the Amateur MuayThai Association (Singapore) and having served as the President for the last 2 years of my time there, I left the position and committee a few years back to concentrate on my own gym.
Apart from teaching MuayThai and sometimes SanDa/SanShou (yeah I did this somewhere along the way of my training days when Singapore didn’t have MuayThai opportunities), More recently I have also started my journey into Shinkyokushin Karate under Sensei Francis Tan while in Singapore and have been looking for a suitable place (mainly due to schedule) to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Anyway, this blog should not be so much about my history but my views of my present, The present and of the future with regards to martial arts, my gym, my training and definitely other stuff that may (or may not) affect or influence my martial arts journey and studies and the way I see life overall. I am sure that along the way my subjects may drift from these a little but I will try my best to get back to the main reasons for starting this blog – my love for martial arts and of course, of life and it’s opportunities (and my intolerance for the lack of common sense and too much ego).

Ego – a whole subject on its own that I may touch on in future.

Surat Dejrat
Ajarhn Surat on my right and Ajarhn Pa on my left
China
My training stint in China, Chang Zhou