The long and winding road – part 2

(UPDATE retitled as part 2 as forgot previous ‘The long an winding road entry’ – oops!)

Since being made redundant in 2007,  I have been endeavouring to turn my martial arts coaching into a a full time occupation.

Along the way I decided (rightly or wrongly) to add several more coaching qualifications to my bow, my logic being that more coaching skills equalled additional opportunities, which in turn would generate extra earning potential. I also had the idea that coaching more ‘mainstream’ sports would  provide opportunities to work in schools and, once my foot was in the door, so to speak, then I could promote my martial arts classes.

First there was football. Seemed a natural choice really. You can’t get more mainstream and being a fan and player it seemed the most obvious first choice. I did the course, qualified as a level 1 coach and then advertised my services to a couple of companies that supplied coaching services to schools and clubs. I was invited along to a couple of sessions to see exactly how it was done and that was when I realised that I’d wasted my £100 fee.

The sessions I attended were nothing like the coaching book examples, in fact, one of the rotund level 2 coaches I was supposed to shadow, merely stood in one position with a clipboard shouting out advise to his assistant who was charging around everywhere trying to cajole and encourage the melee of screaming kids.

I received no advise on how or why this session was run like this, or how to integrate myself, nor did I recognise the game being played from the 50 or so I’d recently studied. | suspect this ‘game’ was designed so that the senior coach didn’t need to move around too much – good thing really, my CPR skills were a little rusty. I came away from this and a 15 minute perusal at another session extremely disappointed and disillusioned.

The martial arts classes continued, numbers weren’t increasing, income was low things were not looking good. I was still convinced that I needed other coaching skills, my school option still rated high in my optimism as a was of increasing numbers, so I continued to look around for other skills to acquire.

I discounted the likes of Rugby, on the grounds that I thought it would provide a similar experience to football, and cricket ‘cos I can’t stand the game!

Long story short, I can now coach, in addition to the enhanced self defence and martial arts training I’ve acquired, Boxercise, Boxfit, Go Fence, Athlefit and Dodgeball. Add to this skill set, courses in fundamental movement and coaching disabled athletes and I think that I have a pretty varied and wide set of coaching skills.

But the motive for doing all these courses and continuing to do them had now changed. Getting into schools as a coach is pretty difficult. Most schools employ agencies to supply their sports needs, agencies like the earlier one I’d been invited to. There was no way I was going to commit myself to one of these companies on the grounds that the pay per hour was crap and having grown used to the idea of working for myself, I didn’t relish reporting to someone else!

However there was one thing I did learn on the football course which made a big impact on me – warm up games! These were new to me and some weren’t particularly football-centric, it dawned on me that I could use some of them in my martial arts classes not only that , I quickly learned that warm up game drills used by sports coaches in other sports could also be used in the dojo.

This was a revelation. For someone brought up on the regimented, boring, robotic style warm ups, this was a eureka moment. I’d also found  a solution to a problem that had been bugging me for years, ever since I was employed by the local leisure centre to assistant my instructor  – how to engage children during these boring routines and how to actually get them to actually warm up!

Warm up games was the answer!

In addition, having discounted the desire to coach team sports (dodgeball was the notable exception, but even that game requires an element of individualism) I concentrated on those sports or activities that would have synergy with my martial arts classes. I learned coaching techniques and drills that easily translated to the dojo and provided excellent ice breakers for introductory school sessions and new students.

Not only that,  I learned to listen to my students and encouraged them to work things out for themselves. This is something that most sports coaches incorporate in their sessions but I’d never seen it in a martial arts class.

The way I’d learned was to have a technique demonstrated several times, then pair off with a partner and try to replicate it. Other sports were doing the same, but then encouraging their participants to question why it was done that way, could it be done better or different, what happened if it went wrong and have the confidence to demonstrate their findings – more of that in part 2.

This was amazing. This was coaching and not instructing. Up until this revelation I had been an instructor and not a very good one at that, an instructor who merely regurgitated the lessons I’d learned in imitation of my instructor.

Coaching provides something else altogether, exactly what that is I’ll explore in part 3.

One to one tuition or, not to one to one tuition …

I’m often asked: “do you do one to one self defence tuition?” Difficult one this. I often point out that if the person I’m teaching/coaching is performing techniques on me, then it’s difficult for me to stand back and make an accurate appraisal. I also suspect, and have been proved correct on occasion, that the individual is so lacking in self confidence that they can’t operate in a room full of people.

Now as self defence/protection tackles the issues of physical and threatened conflict between individuals I’m very wary of those asking for private tuition “‘cos they couldn’t possibly ever make a class.” Personally, I don’t believe I can help these people – I know others would welcome them with open wallets, but not me.

Then there are the belt-hunters. I’m not adverse to private tuition as an introduction to a martial art or an additional learning path but when it becomes a side-step to training in the dojo and a quick route to a black belt then I’m not interested. Sure my bank manager would approve, but there other things just as valuable to me as cash: integrity, honesty, hard work – generally the things money can’t buy.

However (tell me you saw that coming? the ubiquitous catch-all for: hey I have values, but I also subscribe to a convenient cop-out) I am on the verge of a rethink. At least for now and only for a certain set of circumstances … I’ll let you know how it pans out.

Choosing a martial arts school, what’s right for you? …

So just how do you go about choosing a martial arts school? How do you know that it’s reputable, that the instructors are trustworthy and safe? Governing bodies and associations abound in the martial arts world, there’s no all-seeing all-knowing single governing authority like the FA that you can approach for advice. Ultimately, your decision will be based on what you see, what you’re told by the instructor and by word of mouth.

Speak to the instructor ask him about the club. How long has it been running? How many students does he have? Ask him to explain a little about what is taught. There are so many martial arts styles around that you need to know the specific style to help you with your research; generic answers like ‘we teach karate’ won’t help you much, so ask the instructor what style.

What’s the organisation that the club belongs to? Make a note so that you can research them as well. If the answer is ‘I don’t belong to an organisation’ be wary. Most clubs are associated to an organisation for the insurance cover.

This doesn’t mean that no organisation equals no insurance, martial arts insurance cover for student and instructor can be purchased by the individual. Just ensure that the instructor and their students are suitably covered. Training without insurance cover is of course your choice, but any reputable club would not allow it.

Ask the instructor if you can sit in on a class to watch. If he refuses, on the grounds that ‘his secret ninja death touch techniques can only be demonstrated to members of the club,’ avoid the temptation to call him a prat, leave quickly and inform anyone with similar aspirations to avoid that class at all costs.

What qualifications to teach does the instructor have?

A black belt doesn’t necessarily equal a competent or qualified teacher. What if the club doesn’t use or recognise grades? It would be unfair to dismiss a non black belt wearing instructor merely because he has no belt – research, ask and question. If you like what they teach, what you’re told and feel safe then train with him, give ’em a go.

However, if they are advertising themselves as a genuine black belt then they should be able to substantiate that, if not, and they’re a green belt masquerading as a black then any grades they test and pass will be worthless.

You should also avoid clubs that practise fast belt promotions and black belts for small kids. These clubs mostly exist to impress naive parents and their offspring. A worthy black belt will have spent approx 10 years in training and there is absolutely no logic on planet earth that can justify a blackbelt ranking for a child – it’s ludicrous and exists purely to part you with your money.

Of course, the proof in how good any pudding is, is the taste. So have a go, join in a training session. Try them for 2 or 3 weeks and if you’re not happy move on…

It may take a while, but you’ll eventually find the right club for you or your children.

TKD – riverdance in jimjams

Said it before and I’ll say it again, TKD sucks. Okay, there are some pretty skillful exponents, but the art as a whole exists to perpetuate money making pyramid clubs that hand out black belts quicker than an order of fries and be honest, doesn’t a TKD bout it resemble an audition for Riverdance?

However, I do feel some sympathy for Aaron Cook. He left the officially sanctioned TKD Olympic training programme, went his own way, became World No.1 in his weight category but doesn’t qualify for an Olympic place. I don’t beleive TKD deserves to be an Olympic event, along with tennis, football, rythmic gymnastics etc. but the fact that it is, means that surely only the best can compete and by best I don’t mean, best: ‘cos you’ve stayed within our fold, done as you’re told and your face fits’.

I’m bored by it all now. Simple solution? All the TKD squad selectors should fight Cook – winner gets to decide.

Charity idea

Pink BeltThis is a fantastic idea for supporting martial arts charity events. This particular one is for Karen Wild and Iain Abernethy’s fund raising in aid of Cancer Research

I’d like to do something similar for our Dreamflight charity events this year. Not a pink one, even though I like the colour, perhaps a sky blue one, or rainbow coloured or even a plain white one featuring the Dreamflight logo ….what do we think to that then?