Wrist Grab Defence – Why bother?

Hi all

On one of my videos someone posted this comment,

“Can anyone post applications where it is not someone grabbing the wrist..this is a very clear and well executed video… I have never known someone to grab the wrist …but as I say excellent and clear thanks you”

I made a shot clip explaining my position on this subject, do you agree with me or in fact there is no point teaching defence agaist wrist grabs?


Kano Paradox – art vs sport ?

Which approach in martial arts prepares us for self-defence – traditional or sport?
This question often causes a lot of debate with traditional martial artists explaining that life threatening techniques are more useful in real life situations due to their dangerous nature. Examples of these techniques might be eye gouging, striking the throat or attacking the groin. On the other hand we have combat sport, where the opinion is that sport is better to defend yourself as constantly repeating drills gives rise to an automated response to a dangerous situation. To have a clear view on this matter I would like to have a look at the definition of three aspects:
• Traditional martial art
• Combat sport
• Self-defence
I have repeated these definitions from http://evolutionaryselfprotection.com/ as I think these descriptions are accurate and nicely written.

“Martial Art: A martial art is exactly what the name suggests – an art. An art is a method of expression through application of creativity, and is typically concerned with aesthetics. As such, martial arts are often concerned with aesthetics, historical traditions, cultural customs and philosophy. These systems will often focus most of their training on one aspect of fighting, though not always. Martial arts can be traditional or modern, and different systems are often mixed into hybrid systems, usually in order to address what the instructors feel is a shortcoming of their original system. These are often termed Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), though this term is now used more for combat sports systems so many adopt the alternative term Hybrid Martial Arts (HMA) to avoid confusion. Martial arts can be thought of as a method of self-perfection rather than necessarily self-protection, though of course all martial arts training will have some real combative merit, and will often be extremely potent systems with which to protect oneself, so they should be respected as such.”


“Combat Sport: A combat sport is, again, exactly what the name suggests. If a system focuses on competition then it is a combat sport. These systems are often characterised by points-based sparring, where points may be awarded according to damage dealt, submission, knockout, etc or on aesthetic grounds, for example. Tournaments are often held on a regular basis, and the more well-known ones are the ones you see on TV and online. If training is focussed solely on fitness with any combative merits being considered secondary then that system could also be considered a combat sport.”


“Self-Defence: Self-Defence is where this topic gets confused on a regular basis, and arguably where it matters a little more pressingly. Self-Defence is a term used for reactive systems that are geared towards dealing with a combative situation by reacting to a physical attack. This includes Reality-Based Self-Defence (RBSD) systems. These systems are not concerned with aesthetics, historical traditions, cultural customs or philosophy.”

Within Traditional martial arts we have lots of ‘mysterious’ moves, deadly techniques which executed properly will give us the advantage over an attacker.  However, as there are so many of these moves there is not enough time to train them all to become a spontaneous response to an attack.  Another problem is that it is not possible to repeatedly train these techniques – I cannot imagine anyone would be willing to join a club where the students regularly test their deadly strikes on one another as we might have more students seriously injured or hospitalised than at training.

Combat sports are different in that there are no fancy movements.  Everything is efficient and has the sole purpose of winning the competition and all of the training structure is dictated by the rules of the game.  Constant repetition of combinations and drills results in the development of muscle memory and subconscious responses. This gives an advantage over an attacker, but the rules of the sport also get imprinted in our brain and this may be a disadvantage.  For example, training in a knockdown fighting system a student may not be in the habit of punching to the head (because this is not allowed in competition) and subsequently is not used to being punched to the head either.  The existence of these rules can result in a student being used to a referee intervening when a foul has been committed.  All of this can work against us in a real life confrontation.

Self-defence teaches very direct techniques to damage an opponent without strict rules. Subconscious responses are a priority and survival is the main goal.   However, from my experience most of these self-defence groups pay less attention to fitness development. Some groups that I have met also promote a psychological setup where their students believe that after two weeks of training they will be able to win in a confrontation or will be able to disarm an attacker with a knife or a gun.  This is unreal and might even put the life of the student at risk.

So which one is better?  There is no definitive answer to this question as it all depends on the individual.

Getting back to the title of this article of Mr Kano and his paradox and leaving self-defence systems aside lets have look how this paradox was created.

Picture from Wikipedia

Picture from Wikipedia

The question of “which is better traditional martial art or combat sport?” was asked to Jigoro Kano (the creator of Judo) as he removed all dangerous techniques from his Judo and focused on sports methods.  In 1886 in Tokyo a Police tournament was organised of “real fighting” where students of Kano were challenged by masters from traditional schools.  Some of the masters were from Yoshin Ryu, a leading school of Ju jutsu.  Of the 16 fights Judo players won 13, proving that Judo is better in a real fight.  This is the Kano Paradox in that Jigoro Kano had managed to create a combat sport that worked better than the traditional ‘deadly arts’ by removing all of the life and health threatening techniques.

As I am doing both an art and a sport, I have views from both sides and like to mix all the benefits and concepts from sports and traditional martial arts.  Prior to starting wrestling my only martial art was Karate and so I had focussed more on the traditional approach to self-defence.  Unfortunately during this period (in my late teens) I was unlucky enough to be involved in a few incidents on the streets of Krakow.  Some I lost and ended up with bruises and a broken nose, but most I won and so I believe that Karate did give me an advantage over my attackers.  Now that I am older and living in a quiet neighbourhood, I have no need to focus only on self-defence and so can enjoy the art of Karate and free sparring in sport.

I would recommend that people just train in whatever programme gives them the most satisfaction, and not to worry about self-defence as I would hope that in reality very few of us are ever attacked.  Any form of sport will give benefits in case of a confrontation as being proficient in sports builds confidence.  This confidence sends a signal to a potential attacker that “I am fit, strong and not a victim”.  In any case, if we are attacked it is likely that our primal instincts will take over, which will use maybe 10% of our skills…  The rest is all down to our gross and fine motor skills under stress.  In this way it all comes down to the individual – some people who have never trained in martial arts/combat sports are excellent fighters when under stress and end up winning on the street whereas we see some great masters and boxing champions being beaten up.

Thank you for reading!

“Black belt- target or side effect of training”


First black belt in Shin Ai Do Karate in Poland, kept in nice box.

This time I would like to write about approaches towards gradings, belt systems and the black belt. Starting with my story, I began training in martial arts when I was 14.  The same as all beginners I dreamt of becoming a black belt and being able to kick ass! After 13 years I achieved my goal of attaining a black belt.  By the time I achieved my black belt my attitude and opinion of what it meant had changed – I was happy to have it, but now I realised that it was not that important.  During my time training in Karate my teacher did a great job of imparting the belief that it is only a belt – “belts do not fight, they are only there to hold your Gi top together”.   This was his endless mantra.  Looking back, I am very grateful for him impressing this view on us.

Now I am teacher myself, I try to pass this approach on to my students and friends. Looking around I see lots of people chasing the dream of being a black belt, but they do not want to invest time and effort, they want it now, almost instantly.  In this way, the black belt has become something like a driving licence.  You go for a course, when you have done your hours you go for a test and if successful, receive a certificate.  You can then hang this over your toilet for all your guests to admire!  Then you can retire from training as you now know it all – you are the master, the black belt holder…

With more and more people looking for an easy way to achieve this holy grail of martial arts, there are more and more opportunistic teachers and organisations that give away black belts, for a certain price of course.

Another growing trend for extracting money from people is the creation of grading systems with up to 20 kyu grades (or more!), each of which having a separate belt colour.  So the student not only spends money on taking many grades, but also has the pleasure of buying many belts as well.

belt progression

Shin Ai Do have only four colour of belts.


Shortening the times between examinations to 1-3 month intervals provides a steady income for examiners. Students on the other hand may experience a fake impression of progression and achievement.  Such short interval between gradings does not usually provide enough time to properly learn techniques (unless of course you are training every day for many hours).  Speeding through grades at such a pace creates students who often can only remember techniques associated with the current (or very close) grade as they are constantly having to focus on the requirements for the next grade rather than building a solid body of knowledge based on an accumulation of techniques.  Organisations then build black belts and instructors on this foundation.  This causes a lowering of standards within an organisation and damages the image of Karate.  Unfortunately this practice has become very popular in martial arts as a means to make money.  I cannot understand how students are being charged (sometimes ridiculous amounts) for gradings on top of their membership, classes and licence fees.  I understand that obtaining knowledge costs time and money, but to my mind this is extortion.

In line with the realities of supply and demand, people want a black belt quickly and so other people provide this service.  Having a very small Dojo, I try to fight this approach.  At my club we have gradings typically once a year, if (and only if) the instructor decides that a student has done enough to be graded.  When permission is granted to grade, I consult my opinion with one of the other instructors within the organisation to see if they agree with my assessment of a student.  If we are all in agreement that a student(s) should grade, then a grading is organised.  However, we do not setup an isolated exam for only those that are being graded, but observe the students during a few hours of normal training, with a panel of instructors present.  As a panel of instructors are required, our gradings often coincide with international seminars.  The benefit of this is that students can be judged not only by instructors from within our own style, but also by instructors from different martial arts.  All of our gradings are free of charge until black belt when there is a small fee for producing a dan grade certificate and embroidered belt.

Recently at our club we have decided not to wear belts at all as we are a small group and know each other well.  We now only wear our belts when joining our friends on seminars, competitions etc.  I have noticed that this approach is putting off some potential students as one of their first questions when they come through the door is “how long do I have to train to become a black belt?”  After I finish explaining our philosophy on the subject of belts I can see the disappointment in their faces, most of them do not come back…

Another thing I have noticed recently (and is the subject of one of my previous blogs) is that people want easy training, where they pop in for classes for a bit of a workout and social interaction, but do not want to get tired.  At our club our sessions are physically challenging and often involve students having to consider the details of techniques, which requires concentration and constant correction,  hence my popular catch-phrase “something like that”.

I suspect that most people expect from their instructor a ‘pat on the back’ and encouraging words like “yes, you are doing this well”, but being from Eastern Europe I am often seen as being rude as most of the time my focus is on ensuring techniques are performed correctly.  Besides, I do not like to lie and “beat about the bush” and so I am very direct and honest – some people do not seem to get on well with this.

In an age where everything is nearly instantly accessible, people do not often have the patience for long, hard training and being told that they are not ready to grade makes them angry.  That is why McDojos are doing so well.  Organisations like this have adapted to the modern, fast pace of life and fulfilling peoples demands for a quick route to black belt.   However, it is my view that when we start travelling on the path called Karate our focus should be on training and improving, not on grading.  In my opinion obtaining a black belt should be a “side effect” of training and not the target of training.

If you think that anyone else would benefit from reading this article please feel free to share.

Bunkai session @ our club

Here is a little insight into our approach to functional karate and kata. This video shows the first level of bunkai (application) of Tensho kata. Note that the video does not provide all the details of what we do. It is best to meet, try and feel the techniques for yourself. I hope you enjoy.

Seminar Schedule


Seminar Schedule

With only a few weeks left until our seminar we are delighted to be seeing more and more people registering.  To keep you all up-to-date, please find below a detailed schedule for the day (note that this may be subject to minor changes as a result of unforeseen circumstances).   Unfortunately we have had to make a few changes to the programme as Sensei Jacek will no longer be able to join us due to work commitments.  As a replacement we have invited our great friend Sensei Marek who is an annual guest at our club.  However, as is often the case with the best laid plans, we might have to make a late substitution for Sensei Marek as he has just recently broken his leg and it is not yet clear if he will be able to teach by the end of August.  We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him at the seminar in any case.

Plan for the 31st of August 2014:

  • 9:00        – Arena opens (please make sure you are on time as we will not wait!)
  • 9:15        – Opening of the seminar with instructor introductions
  • 9:20        – General warm up
  • 9:30        – Zendo Ryu with Kyoshi Dietmar Schmidt (Greece)
  • 10:40     – Ju jitsu with Renshi Jim Rooney (UK)
  • 11:50     – Kempo with Sensei  Marek Mroszczyk (Poland), please note that in the event that Sensei Marek is unable to teach Sensei Les will teach a Wresting session.
  • 12:30     – Lunch break. Please note that lunch is not provided.  For those who do not bring their own lunch the Spectrum has a coffee bar and a Wimpy.
  • 12:50     – Return for afternoon session. 
  • 13:00     – Demonstration of Seitei and Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu sword work by Hanshi Roger Payne and his students.
  • 13:15     – Shin Ai Do Karate with Sensei Artur  Marchewka (Poland)
  • 14:25     – Aikido with Hanshi Roger Payne (UK)
  • 15:30     – Closing ceremony

I might be being a bit pedantic but please be prompt so that we can stick to the timetable. By doing this you are showing respect to our guests, friends and to the other attendees. Another thing I would like to ask is that all attendees aim to promote a friendly and inclusive atmosphere.  This event is aimed at providing the opportunity to meet new friends, see how others train and enjoy Martial Arts in general.  In support of this aim we seek to avoid any politics.

Please note that for insurance purposes we will ask you to provide some details prior to the start of the seminar (next of kin contact information, pertinent health concerns etc.), so once again I would like to stress that it is important that everyone arrives on time so that we are not delayed.

I hope that this event will be memorable and fruitful for all of us! New knowledge, new friendships and little discoveries – feel free to ask as many questions as you like, all of the instructors are friendly and approachable.

See you soon,

Regards Les.  

Kihon kata- bridge between classical self defence application and free fighting

In Shin ai do karate we have two kinds of kata: classical and modern. This clip shows one of our quick forms with application. Function of this form is providing the bridge between classical self protection captured in old Kata and modern sports fighting.

Forgotten recovery


How many times have you heard from your teachers, friends or fitness people the phrases “do more”, “try harder”, ” no pain no gain” etc.?  These are all very challenging words that are aimed at pushing you that little bit further in your physical and mental progression, but how often do you hear phrases such as “stop, have a rest”, “you should take a break”, “you need to recover”?

We all like to think that training to the maximum limits is the best way even though working out smarter is much healthier for our mind and body than working out harder.

It is common knowledge that the body needs times to recover, but we rarely hear about resting our nervous system, not to mention our psychological wellbeing. Overloading our systems is no good, too many stimulants pushes us into regression.

This issue of lack of emphasis on recovery has led me to do some research into how we can be more efficient in training.  The following information I have gleaned from reading such books as:

  • “Strength training anatomy” by Frederic Delavier; Michael Gundill
  • “Periodization Training for Sports” by Tudor Bompa; Michael Carrera

For those who are interested in finding out more about recovery, I would highly recommend the above two books.

So let’s start by looking at different types of recovery. We have five types of recovery system:

  • Energy recovery
  • Hormone recovery
  • Contractile system recovery
  • Joint and tendon recovery
  • Nervous system recovery

All of these systems in themselves will need time to recover.  The length of time required for regeneration depends upon the intensity of the workout and the technique(s) used.  All of us have our own unique recovery times.  The systems mentioned above differ in their “recharging” rate, not only because of the amount of time they need but also because they recover via different mechanisms.

  • Energy recovery – after working out our energy level is low and it should be topped up by nutrition and supplements.  If our nutrition intake is adequate our energy recovery should be completed in a few hours.
  • Hormone recovery – our hormone balance changes after an intense workout.  Our overall testosterone level will fall and cortisol levels will rise. This distortion should pass after 24-48 hours after an intense workout.  When completing workouts back to back with similar intensity the changes in our hormones will increase further as the body does not have time to recover to normal levels in between.  This is why it is recommended that people have a day or two to rest between similar workouts.
  • Contractile system – the recovery of small muscles after moderate workout takes around 16 hours, with larger muscles taking around 24 to 48 hours to recover, and so we can see that different parts of the body will recover at different rates.
  • Joint and tendon recovery – our joints during a heavy workout are put under a lot stress.  If we do not allow adequate time for recovery, over time we will slowly developed chronic pain and may experience limitations in movement and the loss of ability to do certain exercises. We have to be especially careful with larger joints as they are used in multiple exercises, for example the shoulders and hips.
  • Nervous system recovery – when training our brain sends signal to our muscles through a network of nerves.  Just like our muscles, our nervous system will get fatigued, which will result in the signals getting slower and weaker.  The recovery of the nervous system is very slow.  A study was published in the Journal of the Neurological Science  [2000 Deschenes] that showed that the recovery following a heavy thigh workout resulted in:
  1. Muscle soreness, which lasted for 5 days
  2. Loss of strength for 7 days
  3. Distortion of the nervous system for more than 10 days

Another system which needs recovery is our psychological system.  If we continuously workout without rest our body and brain becomes exhausted, which can lead to monotony and a lack of motivation that can stop our progression.  In the same way that we need to take holidays away from work, we need to take breaks from our sport/art.  If we take regular breaks from our workout routine to recovery our body and mind then after that break we will regain a feeling of hunger for training and when we start working out again we will progress.  The required length and frequency of these breaks will depend on the individual.  Some people will be refreshed after a couple of days, others after a couple of weeks.  Some people will want to take a yearly break from their training whilst others may have to take a break from their workouts once a month or once a week.

When resting all of our recovery systems this does not mean that we should just sit and do nothing.  Studies have shown that active rest speeds up recovery times in comparison to non-active.  That is why it is a good idea to engage in other light sports or activities when resting to stimulate other nerves paths and let the weary circuits have a deserved rest.

I hope that the next time someone says “no pain no gain”, “do more”, “be tough” we will also consider the possibility of doing smarter workouts and ensuring that we include resting as a part of our training regime…

Thanks for your time!

Please share this with a friend who could find this article helpful or interesting!

Regards, Les.