Belts: What are they good for?

Posted: January 15, 2019 by Jonathan Fader in Krav Maga and Other Martial Arts
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The subject of belts and ranking is like so many things a complicated thing because though they are supposed to be straight forward they can mean different things to different people. In Krav Maga, it is no different. There are those who follow the original belt system developed originally for Judo, like us. There are those who follow the Patch system originally developed in the great split of the 90s when IKMF was formed. There are those who say there should be no ranking cuz it does not matter on the street. And there are those who came from a different martial arts background and simply took the ranking system for that and used it for Krav Maga.

Let’s Start at the beginning. Originally there was simply student and master and some way to indicate the difference other than skill. Then as martial arts started to popularize and become more about sport and less about life or death there needed to be a way to track progress and differentiate both skill and time at practice. At some point in the late 20s or 30s Judo’s founder created more or less the modern belt system. And that was that. From there on almost every martial arts style adopted some form of the progressive ranking system using colored belts or sashes. In a lot of styles each colour represents something other than the physical, it others it simply means the next stage.

Back to Krav Maga. If you have read into UTKM a little more you would know when we developed our curriculum we stuck with the traditional belt system as we believe to the lamen it is easier to understand than the patch system. The patch system was developed to appeal to the more military oriented nature of Krav Maga but to most people trying to explain this system can be a bit annoying. But everyone understands what a white or brown or black belt is. So in following Krav Magas original nature, we decided to keep it simple. Additionally, if Krav Maga is simple then we shouldn’t need so many levels to get through the curriculum. Advanced progress can simply be marked by Dans anyways, which are more an indication of continued progress, skill and dedication than anything else.

To the people who say there shouldn’t be ranks, I would say that they really dont understand humans. People who say this usually come from a special forces background and are already physically, and potentially mentally stronger than most people. They may find themselves in a new school and doing far better than average. Thus, due to ego, they feel they deserve more. But they are forgetting that ranks are far more than just skill. They are right though. There are no belts on the street (unless you are wearing one and use it as a weapon of the opportunity of course!) but this is a two-way street. Being a high rank doesn’t matter if you are overwhelmed and being a low rank doesn’t matter if you escape to safety. But humans are funny creatures and we like to measure everything, including our progress. We also like to compare to other people of similar ranks. We are social creatures and thus we crave a system with earnable measurable progression in relation to those around us.

To the last group of people who teach Krav Maga but use some other or random ranking system you are either being disrespectful or care more about business than the actual style, you are teaching. Just my 2 cents and I’ll leave it at that.

So, Belts. What are they even good for?

The obvious has already been stated; Measurable progression. But what does that even mean? One thing to consider is one of UTKMS main goals, to produce people, not belts. People are the product of a school, not their ranks. A belt usually indicates both the completion of minimum time and practical requirements accompanied by an acceptable demonstration of skill for the level in question.

For example, did they show the required attendance or attitude? Did they show the required skills? Did they pass the test? In some systems, it’s simply a matter of going through the motions. In others like ours, we expect you to be able to show us you can really defend yourself while tired and at each level adding the additional skills you have learned at each new level.

Simple, yes? well no. I could have 2 yellow belts, that both passed the test but one is clearly better than the other. This should not discourage anyone, rather show an individual that there are those bigger stronger and faster and that for them the best self-defense is avoidance knowing there are such people out there. Unfortunately, due to our nature, this often discourages people.

In styles with competitions this certainly can be very discouraging but in Krav Maga, it should not. The difference without the sports aspect, the only reason you should be wanting to progress is for yourself. Though really, this sentiment should be applied to all styles. So if you are stuck at a certain rank for a long time all it means is show up more and train harder.

The reality is, self-defense is for your self. It is so that you know what you are capable of in any given situation and you have the confidence to do something should the need arise.

At UTKM we break the skills up based on rank. Beginner is the white belts. Novice is yellow and orange, and advanced is green and up.

When it comes to Krav Maga everyone always wants to lean the fancy stuff which is what a lot of Israeli Instructors focus on. But again, if you are not special forces then you are not a naturally gifted individual physically and mentally and we need to build you up properly so that you don’t hurt your self overestimating your ability.

This is why I believe in ranks. To let you know where you are at so that you dont get overwhelmed in conflict and focus more on the avoidance and situational awareness.

If you can barely punch or kick, then learning to do gun disarms (though easy from a technical standpoint) may just be dangerous. I know you imagine yourself the next John Wick or Hit Girl (Links contain Violence and language) but being delusional is just plain dangerous. I know it hurts your ego to hear this but when it comes to self-defense and your life, there is no room for such things. If you want to learn the cool stuff then put in the time, show us you can do it and you too can learn.

But I want to feel I progressed now!

7 ranks, as a basic, should seem like enough? Or is it too much? BJJ only has 5 ranks. Yet BJJ is quickly becoming one of the more popular styles globally. One thing they understood, is that people are impatient and want to see marked progress now. So they added 4 additionally tape stripes per rank, and even more for the kids. Unlike the days of old where progress meant surviving a life or death battle today just means feeling useful, and happy with a sense of purpose. Before our purpose was just trying to survive. But now our purpose may mean getting to the next rank in a given style. The thing is people are more and more impatient no thanks to social media.

Enter the stripe or half progression. Now people seem to expect progression from JUST showing up. If I show up I will get another stripe. Thus it feeds our ego and our need for acceptance among other things. Yet going this way often dilutes the style. Fortunately, BJJ is still holding strong but there are concerns that standards will fall if ranks are given out too often and too easily. But does it even matter if it’s not about life or death? I think it does still at least.

For Krav Maga, it still is about life or death, survival and much more. There really is no room for ego. Yet if many schools want to survive they need to give the people what they want? right? Well no. If you as a Krav Maga school do your best to remind people why they are leanrning then it should be less about their next rank and more about how they feel about their own progress.

Are they better today than they were yesterday? Delayed gratification goes a long way especially if you ever need to use Krav in a real-life scenario.

I know you want your next rank, I do too (in BJJ) but I care less about the rank now and more about getting better and so should you.

A rank, a belt, a stripe is simply a milestone in a journey. It is not always about skill, but it is definitely about time and attitude.

If you feel you deserved the next rank but haven’t gotten it just stick to it, remind yourself why you started in the first place. In Krav, the reasons are often a little more than just I always wanted to do it, or I just want to do something fun while getting in shape. Often it is things like, I was assaulted, My house was broken into or I was bullied. If those are any of the reasons you came to Krav then the rank doesn’t matter at all.

So remember, no matter what rank you are. It’s about building people ( yourself) not just about getting another belt color or stripe. Check your ego at the door, and just keep training and like everything in time, your next rank will come.

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Editors Note: Judo is just one Martial Art that can be practiced well into the late ages. You could just as easily replace the term Judo with BJJ, Wing Chung, Tai Chi or even Krav Maga. When Reading this article do not fixate on the fact it is originally talking about Judo but that it is possible to practice many martial arts well into your later years.

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A screencap from Judo After 40

The other day I became aware of a YouTube video titled “Judo after 40”.  It’s a 10-minute long video that captures the thoughts of the head instructor of the Kamloops Judo Club, who is a 7th-degree black belt, along with one of Canada’s top female judokas who just turned 40.  They were discussing how it’s possible to continue practicing judo well into your 70s, 80s, and 90s, as long as you make some adjustments along the way to compensate for the changes in your body as you age.

What caught my attention is that they used the age of 40 to delineate the age at which people would traditionally determine is the difference between being “strong and healthy” and “over the hill”.  Personally, I would rather not have any delineation be made, especially regarding age, and instead talk about how you need to make adjustments to your training as you age, regardless of whether or not you’re still competing.  I’m not sure about other martial arts and their competitions, but in judo, you can continue to compete as long as your body allows you.  Judokas in their 50s can still compete in randori (sparring) in tournaments and if that’s too hard on their body, they can compete in kata (forms), well into their 60s and older.

Watching the video prompted me to think about what I would tell someone who asked me if they could still take up judo as an adult and progress to eventually attain a black belt.  I would respond “Absolutely”, and would encourage them to do so if that’s what their goal is.  From past blogs I’ve written, you may already be aware that I went back into judo after a 30-year break at the age of 51, having stopped when I was 19 at a blue belt level and was graded to a black belt in December 2018 at the age of 55.  So yes, it can be done, and trust me, I’m nobody special.

As I went through my journey to get my black belt, many things became apparent to me.  As an adult, it’s a very different journey than if you were a teenager.  As a youth competitor you’re full of energy, aggression, and drive, so if you compete and ride the wave with your fellow students, you’ll be able to get your black belt before you’re 20.  It will also be well-earned and well-deserved because you’ll have been promoted based on your performance at tournaments and how you rank amongst your peers. As an adult, however, it’s a very different experience.  You may compete in the odd tournament if you like, but in general, your journey is one of learning more about yourself and you’re also mature enough to know that the only person you’re in competition with is yourself.  It becomes a personal challenge to progress because you want to prove to yourself that you can do it.

When I received my black belt and people were offering their congratulations, my usual response was that it took me so long.  And then I was surprised at how similar the message was from most people, that it didn’t matter how long it took because the important thing was that I didn’t give up.  When I heard that response after the 3rd time it started to sink into my head that persevering and not giving up was what people were noting and respecting and that as a result, I was able to achieve my goal.  Nobody cared how long it took except for me.  I’ve seen a video of a disabled person who had no legs and he eventually received his black belt in judo.  How was this possible?  It’s because he demonstrated to everyone that he wouldn’t let his disability be an obstacle in his quest and that he had the grit, the spirit, and the determination to not give up.  He exhibited the higher-level character traits that a black belt in judo should have, almost more so than knowing the techniques themselves.

If you’re older like I am, you may remember a TV show from the 70s called “Kung Fu”, where the student Caine had to try and grab a pebble from his master’s hand.  Once he was able to, then it was time for him to leave the Shaolin Temple.  It’s similar to what it’s like when you know you’re ready for your black belt.  In a sense, you don’t care anymore.  Yes, you still want it, but because you feel you’re “there” and you’ve earned it, then the formality of the belt being awarded becomes a lower priority.  It’s truly the epitome of the journey being more important than the destination.

I used to think that to earn a black belt it meant that you needed to be an expert in all the techniques and that your skill level was very high.  Yes, I know more techniques than the lower belts, but that’s not what matters, and I am certainly not an expert in all the techniques.  As a black belt in judo, you have a responsibility to ensure that you’re passing on knowledge and direction to the lower belts and to set an example by being humble, gracious, and free of arrogance.  If you have the wrong attitude and you don’t personify the traits that a black belt should demonstrate, then you will not be awarded it no matter how strong your technique is.  Brown belts with enough points to be graded to black, who do not display the qualities that a black belt should have, will never get it because they don’t have the recommendation or support from their sensei who are looking for these specific traits.

People generally think that achieving a black belt is the end goal, whereas in fact, it’s the point at which you just start learning about judo.  Shodan, which is a 1st degree black belt, literally means “beginning degree”.  Given that, I look forward to starting to learn what judo is actually all about.

 

This week’s Krav Maga curriculum: Jan 14th-20th

Posted: January 14, 2019 by urbantacticskravmaga in Weekly Curriculum
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*please use your student workbooks to track your progress

If you haven’t noticed by now be some of my recent posts there is a focus on self-improvement. For those of you who are new to the site or just spent to much time on Facebook and not on the content of these pages then UTKM’s core concepts may be foreign to you. One of them however is Never stopped learning and growing. This doesn’t just include the students, but the instructors and myself as well. For us, an instructor who no longer wants to improve themselves and face the challenges associated with it probably does not want to be an instructor anymore. We have this attitude because leading by example is the best way to get students and others to do it too.

Don’t get me wrong, being a better person is hard. In fact, it may be the hardest thing most people do in their lives. It means facing the things we don’t like about ourselves in a honest manner and deciding if we are willing to change for the good. With the new years in order, I don’t really want to make a new years resolution I want to make a lifestyle change.

For those who have taken a class with me you may think, or know that I can come off as very confident and charismatic. The truth is despite this, I truly have a hard time making meaningful connections with those around me. Whatever the reasons for this are, dont really matter. What matters is that I would like to change this.

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Without meaningful connections, it can feel like you are alone even if there are lots of people around you. People, you may even consider friends.

If you dont have meaningful connections how can you reach out and get the information you want for self-improvement? Traditionally, there were books, then the internet, now there are podcasts. Podcasts are amazing as they give you a direct connection, often to the people that textbooks cite, except you can get the most updated information directly from the source.

One of my go-to podcasts for health, wellness and fitness is the Ben Greenfield podcast. Ben is one of the top fitness and nutritional experts in America and an elite athlete. He is driven to constantly better himself in all aspects of himself because he knows despite his achievements there is much to improve.

 

His recent podcast posted before the end of the year titled,

The Hidden Health Epidemic Nobody Is Talking About (& 6 Ways To Protect Yourself From It)

Ben-Greenfield during a ultramarthon

Ben during a Spartan race

Really spoke to me. Yes, Ben is a little religious for my tastes but the reality he is right. If you are depressed because you feel lonely it is likely you are lacking meaningful connections with even a few people. I can say that this may very well be the case for me (though I dont feel particularly lonely as I have the UTKM family.) I find it difficult to relate to people, and many people find me difficult for one reason or another. I have noticed whether intentionally or otherwise the podcasts I listen to all have been focusing on self-improvement lately(probably very intentional due to the new year).

If you are like me a more right-leaning (Politically) indivudal then you might find a lot of the people who talk about mindfulness and meaningful connections often sound very WOO WOO. The truth is, its probably because they aren’t the best themselves and are really just parroting the information. That or they have done a little too many hallucinogens in their lives and have lost touch a little. The reality is, the science seems to be fairly consistent at this point.

Humans are social creatures and as humans to be happy we need meaningful connections.

Even if this podcast doesn’t reach you like the way it did for me use it as a starting point and find someone that you can connect to. Either way, Ben is an amazing source for the most updated science-based fitness knowledge and info.

To give you an idea of some of the things he covers in this podcast:

  • How loneliness, or “social isolation” negatively affects your physical health…8:30
  • The correlation between smartphone prevalence and loneliness…16:15
  • Practical things you can do to fight loneliness…24:12
  • The chemistry behind face to face interactions…38:20
  • 6 ways to enhance your life and longevity with love…47:15

*pulled from his website on the link given above for the podcast

At this point, this episode has been out for almost a week and I have listened to it a few times. Two of the things I am working on immediately is

  1. putting away my phone during meal times and turning off notifications outside of business hours.
  2. I am also working on the eye contact part, something that has always been a challenge for me for one reason or another. Usually, if you think I am looking you in the eye there is a good chance I am actually looking at your nose. A trick I picked up a few years ago but probably does not help with meaningful relationships.

In many ways. Podcasts like this are far more helpful than seeing doctors. Usually, their advice is diet and exercise. But that’s usually because they are not really trained outside of acute medicine among other reasons, but I will not get into a rant here about it….

For someone like me, this advice is useless because I do exercise and I do eat fairly well. So what else could it be? Well, it should seem obvious to the doctors, but it is not. (I generally only go to them if I have already figured out what the problem is like the time I tore my ACL, even though they thought I did not).

So if your doctors are not helping you, and you do exercise and you still feel lonely. Then it is possible you lack meaningful connections. This is why those who are surrounded by people are still lonely. It is because the majority of the relationships are shallow, hollow, fake or just surface relationships. So if you think this might be you then, this podcast is a great start to a new lifestyle change for the new year.

I hope it is as helpful for you as it was/is for me.

P.S. If you are the type of person who prefers to read. The Transcript for the podcast can be found here!

 

 

This week’s Krav Maga curriculum: Jan 07th-13th

Posted: January 7, 2019 by urbantacticskravmaga in Weekly Curriculum
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*please use your student workbooks to track your progress

This year I swear, I will hit the gym 3 times a week, swear off cookies, and take that new Krav Maga class thing regularly I heard about last Tuesday! This is my new year’s resolution.

Enter March. You bought an overpriced gym membership, that you used twice and are now stuck in a contract you dont even use. You just bought peanut butter fudge cookies because you are depressed you spent money on that contract that you don’t use. And you never bothered to try that Krav Maga class because it looked too scary, and your best friend didn’t want to come because their significant other didn’t want them to get hurt.

The first thing is you probably bit off more than you can chew (Pun Intended) and it is now overwhelming and no longer fun.

A mistake people often make is they make decisions because they should do something but not because its what they would like to do.

Bottom line, if you dont enjoy it, you probably won’t do it long enough to make it a habit or a priority.

Instead of starting with I need to lose 30 lbs, start with finding an activity that you like. It can be going to the gym, taking that krav maga class, or even just going for a walk. Once you have made it something you like to do and have made it habit you can now focus on your other goals.

If your goal was to train more and you say you are going to train 5 days a week in Krav Maga or other martial arts but were barely making one then perhaps it’s not a realistic goal. 2 days a week might be more attainable as it is only one more day than you have been doing so far.

Once something has become a habit it and routine eventually it becomes a lifestyle rather than a task or chore or something you just have to do.

If you say you want to start Krav Maga this year as your goal, great. Take a class first. Then take two. If you like it now you can set your goals. If you don’t and it’s still something you really want to do, try a different school. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit and that’s ok, but if its something you really want to do then try all school options available.

Don’t rely on your friends either. I cannot remember how many times groups of friends started coming and then only one stayed, and eventually, they too stop because their friends were not there anymore. If its something you want to do, then you do it. Make new friends in the gym for when you are in the gym and keep those friends for when you are not in the gym. But do it you not them.

The same goes for diet. If you dont like the foods on your “diet” then it’s going to be impossible for you to stay on it. Consider eating healthy 4-5 days out of the week and hit up the exercise activity you chose to make up the 2 days you have as cheat days. Realistically strict “diets” are hard to keep and keep a healthy social life. So need to go out to that party one day because (Insert Reason), its ok go and have fun. Just know to stay on track the rest of the week and you will be fine. Because a yo yo diet is not a diet at all. Also, diet is relative, when it comes to food there are many great options on how you should eat. Just make sure you consult your doctor or a nutritionist if you are sure ( I would lean heavily to the latter).

New Life

Don’t just say the change. Make the change happen with a lifestyle change.

No matter what your new year’s resolution is, do it not because you are supposed to, but because you want to. Make easy on your self and break it up into smaller parts. If you cannot make it a habit and a lifestyle you will not likely keep your resolution. If you change how you look at it next thing you know its 1 year later and you have met and exceeded your goal and you didn’t even notice because you were to busy having fun. Dont just set another resolution. Make a lifestyle change.

 

 

This week’s Krav Maga curriculum: Jan 01st-06th

Posted: December 31, 2018 by urbantacticskravmaga in Weekly Curriculum
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*please use your student workbooks to track your progress

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Here at UTKM we almost always close down during the holidays. Partially because we know most people are away but also because it is the time to spend with your family, friends or loved ones.

As much as we harass you to train more, so long as you are reasonably consistent in your training know that it is not the most important thing in your life. Meaningful connections are so spend this time to keep them, make them and be with them.

If they are truly the connections that you need, then in return they will understand if you need to train 3-5 times a week the rest of the year, without guilt or judgment.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, (Chanukah was a while ago so happy belated Chanukah), though it doesn’t really matter what you call this time of the year so long as it enriches your life for the better.

Andrew does 360

Andrew during his Orange Belt Test.

I’d just returned from class after a few weeks absence for a variety of reasons, many of which can be summed up by HOLY CRAP THIS CITY WE LIVE IN IS BUG NUTS INSANE and I was smiling on the drive home. In the rain at night, in Vancouver traffic.

As I piloted my ridiculous Midlife Crisis Truck through the barely-visible streets of the cities from Burnaby to the secret location of my Headquarters for Evil Plans, I was again reminded why I do Krav Maga. Fun. It’s fun to do, with people that are fun to do it with. Like sex, only more intimately eye-gougey and slightly less chance of disease.

Yes, the cardio at the start is a pain, especially if you’re old and dinged-up and composed mostly of suet, as I am. What is “suet”, you ask? Suet is a fancy term for lard. Fat. So many chocolates. I REGRET NOTHING. Except during cardio, of course.

Yes, the subject matter is often deadly serious and has a super-practical focus. We are encouraged to take it seriously.

Yes, you may actually need this for real one day and that is scary.

Yes, human sweat is a disgusting fluid and you will be coated in it. If you’re lucky, the other person smells better than you do.  If you’re -unlucky- the other person has a defensive beard-loofah and they laugh at your suffering. Dave.

And yes, traffic does suck and yes, it is a time-eater. Time, that most precious of commodities.

But. But. Krav Maga at UTKM is also fun. It’s interesting, it’s exciting, it’s engaging. Odds are you will laugh during class. Especially if you see me do a combat back-roll. Ever see a Bantha? From Star Wars? Now picture that doing a rear somersault on the ground. Yes.

You get to hit things. Pads. Mats. Jon, if you’re “lucky” and he’s not careful, heh heh heh. Each other! And you get hit, yes, but that too is kind of fun once you realize the other person isn’t trying to destroy you and is, in fact, just as worried about that as you are.

You get to stab people with pretend knives! And shoot pretend guns! You get to learn all sorts of horrible but also interesting tricks to -not- get stabbed by a knife and/or take away that gun.

You get to laugh with your classmates when one of you ends up pinwheeling across the mats wearing a surprised expression from a screwed-up kick or takedown.

You earn that sense of confidence that comes with not freaking out when someone swings their fist at you – and help that person also learn not to freak out. And that, too, is fun.

And you belong to a select crew of people that put the time in to learn these sometimes horribly necessary skills that some very real, very serious people came up with to protect themselves and their loved ones in bad places and times. And that belonging is also a pleasant thing.

So, Urban Tactics Krav Maga is fun. It’s worth doing and it’s worth doing it with people that are having a good time. Kind of like eating cake, if cake was trying to stab you while refusing to let go of the knife. *^^%!%@ murder-teenagers. You know who I’m talking about, Karis.

 

This week’s Krav Maga curriculum: Dec 17th – 23rd

Posted: December 17, 2018 by urbantacticskravmaga in Weekly Curriculum
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