It costs some money!

Ken Shamrock, four-time mixed martial arts wor...

Ken Shamrock, four-time mixed martial arts world champion and Marine Corps Martial Arts Program subject matter expert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A researcher found that most people choose a martial arts school primarily because they know someone else who goes there, a friend or neighbor, next in order of selection priorities was distance, after that was cost.  A long time martial arts school owner tells me the first question a caller ask is “how much is it?”

Ask school owners what they think most peoples criteria for selecting a martial arts school is, and their answers won’t match the research.  Most instructors think it’s their individual greatness, their championship wins and such.  Others think it’s the superiority of their style.  Some will credit marketing genius.

Proximity is a biggie, especially for beginners.

Even though they get sold on how important commitment is going to be to growth, and how often they can come, they know they’re really on the “let me TRY this out and see” phase and travel is also an investment: “So, only $100 a month, great! (thought bubble) “and that’s 3 gallons of gas at $4.00 each, times 3 times a week, times 4 weeks to a month, it’s really gonna cost me $250 to take this class, plus an extra ninety minutes travel time each time…” Oh yeah, this is a great school and all, but the YMCA is walking distance to my house, and even at the same price per class, it suits me better.”

It costs some money!

I, and many others like me have gone against the grain on this as students.  I have traveled 400 miles to train for a weekend with an instructor at their school, and paid the cost of a luxury hotel stay on top of the hotel stay.  I know others that regularly go cross country to do the same.  Having the disposable income to do it is a factor, I wouldn’t do it if it meant no groceries for my family for a week.  There’s also a little bit of a vanity factor ” I’m going to train with Master so and so, it’ll look like we’re buddies, and since he is recognized, that means I deserve recognition too!”  This is stuff that more advanced students do.  Yes, getting a higher degree of skills instruction is part of it and so may be the fact that there is no worthwhile instruction nearby.  I’ll say this, it’s gotten beyond my financial means to train with “Master” anymore, I can’t afford them.

Does that mean there’s never any quality affordable instruction nearby?  Or, that if an instructor is not famous or in a photo with a famous one, his stuff is no good?  No.  For beginners, anyone who knows a little more than you and can teach is a great start.  I have known some amazing martial artists, who by default and sometimes by choice are largely unknown practically anonymous.

Does that mean that if it’s good it should cost an arm and a leg, and you should pay it?  No.  There’s an old Zen story about a monk, cutting his arm off and giving it to the master in order to try to get instruction.  As they say in NLP, the map is not the territory.  Don’t let that be your guide, either in cash or blind and exclusive devotion.

Interested in martial arts and there’s a small place nearby?  Go check it out. take the free classes, then tell the instructor what you liked, AND WHAT YOU DIDN’T LIKE if anything.  Discuss the cost.  If it’s beyond your reasonable means and you are still interested, ask for an affordable fee.

A real teacher loves to teach and will not pass up a potentially good vessel for the knowledge they have to impart. If you are a a good vessel, they should want you. A teacher is not a teacher without students. Otherwise that knowledge will go to a schmuck who will waste it and not represent him well as a teacher.

I know about area demographics, overhead, and costs of living.  Still, instructors; you might do better by making instruction more affordable to your neighbors, and not set fees on what you think you’re worth, as opposed to what good students can pay, and I did say “good” students, as opposed to merely “prosperous” students.  Back to that Zen story, the monk sacrificed something essential to get the training, but the point is that he was WILLING to give a lot of himself for the training.

As an instructor I need a little cash, but what I really ask for is an open mind, humility, determination, trust (not blind or unintelligent obedience) and consistency.  When I find the right mix of these qualities in a student, money becomes secondary.  I have also had the blessing of receiving from instructors – when I had no money to give.  To which I am forever grateful, and seek to pay it forward just the same.

On the other hand, if I don’t like you or trust you, all the money in the world may not get me to teach you.

Check the Myself & Martial Arts Instruction tab above or click here for more information about the Rick Vargas Kali Silat & Self Defense training group that meets at Black Lightning Martial Arts in Debary, FL


Solo Martial Art Training

You can’t always train at the gym. 

Training in a state of the art gym or dojo is a great thing.  There you’ll likely have space, time, equipment, partners at different levels, and coaching.  But not being able to get to one for whatever reason (money, responsibilities, time, distance) should not stop you from training and even making progress on your own, at home.

If you don’t have a lot of stuff you can do calisthenics and bodyweight exercises (pushups situps, pull-ups, etc.) anywhere.  There’s your cardio and strength straining.

You can shadow box in front of your shadow or a mirror.  When you do, do several rounds, start slow and easy, and progressively add realism and intensity.  I consider this a really important part of martial training; rehearsing your moves with intent and energy will bring them up with intent and energy.  Practice at three speeds:  1. slow and mechanical, 2. Half speed and smoothly flowing, 3. Twitchy, super fast or “red line” speed.

Hit something regularly, a punching bag, a makiwara, a makeshift Item you can hang or post to practice both intentional hitting, and casual hitting, I mean hitting without preparation, no stance, no telegraph. Why?  Because you may not always be in a position to do a perfect hit, but should do a hit anyway.

Visualize the techniques and try them with your eyes closed (in a safe space of course).  Practice from different positions, standing, sitting, lying down.  Try to train both under duress, when tired from cardio and strength, and when very relaxed.

 Rest.Training under too much continual stress may burn you out, and actually make the practice less beneficial.

Train and practice under less than optimal conditions.  I wear glasses.   I train with and without glasses.  A shooting instructor brought this home when he asked; if in the middle of the night I hear a break in at home and a rush to the bedroom door, can I just grab my gun, point, and shoot to 15 feet in the dark  without bothering to look for my glasses?  I can now, thanks to dry fire practice and taking off the prescriptions at the range.  Sometimes, I may be sluggish from a cold/flu and medication.  Yes, I’ve looked to see how effective I am in those conditions, what I can and can’t do, and how fast.

Research other methods beyond what you are taught at the local school.  Some places just teach one thing, say Mesopotamian Kung Fu, that doesn’t mean you can’t train Jiu Jitsu for yourself on your own time, or a spin kick, or a particular kata.  Who are you doing this for, the school/instructor, or yourself and your family?

Speaking of family, is there someone that might help you out A LITTLE BIT at home,  If they’re not training for themselves they probably won’t want to be your training partner, but “help me work out this  move for 5 minutes” might be feasible.  Don’t hurt or aggravate them, and they might help you again.

I tell my students over and over, that they are taught in the gym but learn at home, and that everything is homework.  This is what makes a martial art yours, and part of your lifestyle not just a “class” you take.

Criticism: proprietorship in the martial arts

I find the idea of proprietorship in the martial arts amusing. 

The “this is mine and mine alone, you can’t use it unless I approve,” kind of presumptuous ownership, of a muscular skeletal operation that is by nature  optional for most humans with four limbs.   Who “owns” a lead leg side kick, or a forehand slash, or the form Kusanku?  What about the jab/cross/hook combination?

Hapkido holds many throwing techniques in comm...

Hapkido holds many throwing techniques in comm…

Martial arts “styles” with peculiar moves often claim that it is impossible to learn these from anyone outside their approved lineage.  When someone else, through the same trial and error, experimentation, practice, perhaps even  glimpsing the material, that originally developed these moves achieves them, they are disavowed as inauthentic.  As if the moves originated like divine revelation to only one authorized prophet.

There are instances that I respect of imaginative concepts codified for purposes of instruction, but so far as I know, there are no legal patents for martial art moves, techniques, katas, training methods, etc.

I’ll use a Karate example.  Master Jhoon Rhee created a set of katas, forms, set to classical music. The best known of these  are “Exodus” and “Granada.”  While never a Rhee student myself, I learned Granada informally from one his students.  Is it the case that I can never teach the form Granada as I know it, to one of my students, friends, or family? Or that I can not modify it further? No it’s not.  I can, and I would not be in violation of a patent, civil, or criminal law.

Some instructors will not teach martial ideas similar to another’s, but it is done not by penalty of law.  They may say it’s out of respect, and maybe it’s also because they feel they got something better.  But, technically there is no legal violation in teaching or practicing something you learned from someone else, through personal instruction, book, instructional video, movie, or what not.  On the other hand, in my old neighborhood there were several Tae Kwon Do schools within a 2 mile radius, all different names, all teaching the same drills, kicks, and punches.  Why did they not have this sort of conflict?  Most of martial arts has gotten over all that, still some have not.

Film Production: Cinematography

Film Production: Cinematography (Photo credit: vancouverfilmschool)

To compound the issue there are training videos out there by instructors and practitioners, easily purchased, and intended for self training, and many self published instructional videos on you tube.  If you buy one, can you be forbidden to use or teach what is on the videos to others under penalty of law?  No. So what if I do?  Your ego will not be as gratified? Why the did you publish the video?

I have training videos, and a few years ago I contacted one of the instructors/publishers. I told him I had the videos, was training them, and was going to incorporate some of his material into my classes.  His reply: “I am glad you find my dvd’s helpful, if you have any questions just ask… Be Well.”  That’s the attitude to have regarding video material you put out.  In turn, my students know I didn’t originate this material and who did, just that they are getting it from me.

An instructor recently bemoaned the fact that he saw someone wearing a particular styles t shirt, and when he asked the guy where he trained (since he owns the only “authorized” school in the area, being certified by the master) the guy told him something like “nowhere, I video train.”  The instructor from that style is upset, considers that training invalid.  You’d like for him to come train those skills and concepts under your kingdom?  Oh, well.

“The times they are a changing” it’s not like it was 70, 100, 500 years ago.  It’s a smaller and faster world.  It’s the information age. Master so and so sells the training videos, t-shirts, and does short and long seminars worldwide.   I’ve been to his seminars and bought the t-shirts too. So what if the individual trains via videos?  So what if he creates his own training group based on the videos in the area?  We’re buying a video, not into a religious hierarchy and obligation here.

There’s a popular Bruce Lee story about his being challenged by Chinese martial artists for teaching to non Asians.  Bruce had been taught a style of Gung Fu, and was sharing the knowledge with others.  They tried to forbid him from teaching outside of official authorization.  Luckily for most of us, he rejected their claims of racial, cultural, and martial arts authority, and we are better off for it.

There are still territorial, stylistic, cultural, and even familial claims to some sort of inherent proprietorship of martial arts practices.  “Our style’s moves,”  “My family’s Art,” “Okinanwa’s punch”  “Korean kicks”  “Systema movement,”  “Gracie Jiu Jitsu,” and more.  It is good to acknowledge other’s intellectual innovation, creativity, and contributions to the arts, but when the recipient demands it, it becomes ego gratification. That’s not a martial virtue.

Can you imagine this happening with boxing, gymnastics, chess, or any other skill or practice?  “This is the Bobby Fisher technique and you must be certified by an official Chess Master Bobby Fisher school/instructor in order to use it, teach it, or win a match by it.” Preposterous, right?  My point exactly. It’s silly and insecure.  I can freely get and use the U. S. Marine Corps fighting manual, but not Joe Blow’s method of punching with a fist attached to an arm…

It also strikes me as a contradiction; there’s a form of fear evident in this type of proprietorship.  Contradictory, because one of the virtues expected to develop in  martial arts  training is that of overcoming fears.  But there it is: fear, mostly, of losing money.  Fear, of losing influence.  Fear, of lack of recognition.  Fear, of losing “purity.”  Some will talk of sharing the art, while being utterly and monetarily selfish about its dissemination.  I say get over it, the paradigm of exclusivity in martial arts is over.

I could be wrong, but I think somewhere along the line it was lost that these skills and knowledge are for for the individual’s benefit and development, not for the glory of one person’s  legacy or corporation.  Given a little time, that attitude begets idol worship and dogma.

Do your practice, share or hoard as you want, but it’ll be increasingly futile to try to pull the idea on others that this is feudal Japan in the 12th century, and you can lord over knowledge and sharing.

There is also a side argument made sometimes, the one about preserving “quality.”  Some instructors would have you believe they’re concerned with the skill levels of “their” art.  But physical skill is an individual phenomena, not a corporate one.  There are higher and lower skilled practitioners in every art, as well as at every stage of learning.  I believe it has less to do with skill levels and more to do with money and ego.

Another point often made by “owners” of a martial arts is that you cannot learn their stuff if you don’t have loyalty to them.  Bull.  It’s they who need to have loyalty to you if they accept you as a student.  Loyalty to give you the best they can in as quick a manner as possible, because tomorrow is not guaranteed to either instructor or student.

When I teach, I teach like a mini seminar.  Everything I teach is “homework.”  You take it with you, refine and develop it, own it, and pass it on as you wish.  If you come back, I may try to optimize it for you according to my understanding of it, and off you go again. I coach.  My humble material is yours.  I am not the “sole proprietor” of martial secrets,  or a select franchisee of anything martial arts.

Until the patent office issues a “martial arts” patent, neither is anyone else.

Good people interested in martial arts should seek instructors who want to share the art, rather than recruit members to their kingdoms.  I’m glad I’ve found some like that.


Really interesting, and for further consideration, I found one other significant discussion of this proprietorship as I call it here, so do click on it: Can martial arts moves be copyrighted?


“All consciousness... (366/286 Oct. 12, 2012)

(Photo credit: ConnectIrmeli)

“There isn’t a moment that you are standing in that you are not wanting improvement.”  Abraham.

For me, it’s true.  I always want improvement, and that’s just on the conscious side, I bet it’s true subconsciously as well.  I do want improvement, in my health, my skills and abilities, my car, my finances, my environment.

That innate desire brings with it to my mind two challenges.  The first is a call to action, do what it takes to improve; make the phone call, do the exercise, make money, manage and increase wealth.  Most often it’s a matter of stop talking and start doing.  Seems as if beginning to act on the desire to improve is in itself an improvement.  The second challenge is a bizarre self doubt; you should be content with where you are and what you have, wanting more is selfish and greedy, therefore sinful, striving is painful and sometimes pointless.

They are contradictory forces.  Which is “right?”  I try to  draw wisdom for living from many sources, past and present, without letting one source exclude the others to my detriment.  In this case I’ll use  biblical references and paraphrase off the top.

Those who ask, receive; those who seek, find; to those who knock, for them it shall be opened.


For those who have,  more shall be given, and they will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.

I think this last one is related to what is called the parable of the talents.  In all, I take these to mean that improvement, the desire for improvement, and especially acting on the desire is godly, and the self doubt part is not.  Plus, there’s the danger that by not asking, seeking, knocking for more or better, even what you think you have and are content with, may be lost.

Be well.





A training partner who’s sentiments on teaching I share, Thanks, Ervin, from his blog:


Why do I teach? Why do I train?


Monday, 22 April, 2013 12:46 Last Updated on Monday, 22 April, 2013 12:48 Written by Ervin Quintin



20130422-115428.jpgBelow is an entry that I was reminded of after this past week and weekend events. I thought hard and searched for something to strengthen my beliefs on going in the right direction. This is from my own personal journal that I decided to share with the world. Its raw and unedited. Just a free flow of thought to paper. I hope it helps others the way it reminds me of my duties.

I teach because it brings me joy that others find their hidden potential and brings it to the surface. For some, it lies just beneath the surface and for others it is buried deeper within. For those that take longer to see this surface, I am stubborn enough to keep pushing with them. Through thick and through thin, I will be there. Through frustration, confusion and despair, I will help for it is the spirit that is important; their spirit. Not mine. It doesn’t matter how good I am. It only matters how good I can make them! My teachers gave me the spotlight during my journey. It is my turn to place someone else in that spot. I HAVE TO find my replacement. Isn’t that why I teach?!

My teachers, who I’ve been a loyal and dedicated student under for so long, said something that will echo with me for eternity.

“I know when my job is done is when you don’t need me anymore.”

I understand what he means and I know the purpose that it is meant for, but being a forever student is what drives me to push further than greatness. That’s what I want to give! Deliver the gift of “self” and the connection of family. Those two special ingredients is what nurtures passion and desire…at least for me. The greater I become, the greater I can make others. It is my job to make others better than me but I will not make it easy for I will build myself, also, along the way.

So I would say…


“No, sir. I’ll always need you. I accept one day you will not be around, but the teachings will stay and I will continue to learn from them continuously.”


If I stop growing, how can I make others better than me? If the bar is set too low, will I accept that their growth will only go so far? HELL NO! I must do it for them so that they can do it for themselves. The meaning of life is hidden in there. I know it is. Together we can catch glimpses of how divine a sight it is. I want it just as bad as they do.

I think of my children, on how young they are. How much growing they still need to do. I remember what its like to be them. Confident yet lost. Brilliant but ignorant. Ambitious but lazy.

“Who do they have in their lives that can guide them to more than just greatness?” I would ask.


I know they have plenty of teachers and I feel and firmly believe it is important to have more than just one but I, their father, have to look deep within myself. There I found an answer. Be the person you want them to become. Someone who will not stand for a mediocre self. Someone who is independent but have strong senses for togetherness.

The best part of all of this? Sometimes my own lessons reflect back to me in a more powerful way. It shows me where I am and I get to ask myself if I like this result or not. What can be done to improve this? Does something need to be added? Strip away? My own children have become my teachers. This is why I teach, this is why I train. Help myself by helping others. Leaving a trail behind so others can travel it. Then…when my days are done and I can no longer walk the Earth, someone will finally become my replacement and continue where I left off; another reason why others are more important than me.

You can see his post on his site here”  Why do I teach…



Well Being

Mackay Beauty

Mackay Beauty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How we define living well is a first step to better living, and understanding that living is an active verb is an important part of that.  Physics gives us the understanding that everything at the atomic level is in motion, and vibrating.  By extension, all existence, all of life, is constantly in this vibrating motion, and therefore in a state of continual change.

The pace of this change may be slow or faster, and often it seems sudden, but it’s been in process all the while.  This is especially noticeable when we go from what we consider doing well, to misfortune of any kind like financial, physical, or psychological.  We generally call those things a loss, because it is related to losing our being well, loss of health, loss of money, loss of peace and calmness, loss of harmony.   That throws us out of whack because our innate desire in life is to live well, and we want to get back to that as soon as possible.

Our values and thought systems direct our actions in dealing with unpleasant changes, and how to navigate back to well being.  We are not born with a life manual or easy indexed reference guide, and our knowledge at any one time is limited, so we experiment arbitrarily, or we seek the insight and example of those who have navigated these changes successfully.  It happens on many levels.  Sometimes it’s a mechanical fix, like your car engine shut down, and all you need to do is change the oil, or a belt.  Maybe it’s an environmental fix; it’s cold outside, and putting a jacket on returns your sense of well being.

But often the necessary fix is internal, and may not be achievable to the original degree.  This is where some people compound their loss, increase pain, and fall short of returning to any semblance of well being, by kind of shooting themselves in the foot.  Rather than accept incremental steps on the way back to well being, they take an “all, or nothing at all” stance.

On the physical passing of a loved one for example, the pain of loss is extended when you cannot transcend the single thought that you “just want him back.”   Demanding that as the fix for your well being is impractical.  The emotional and psychological drives within would like that, but that’s not going to happen in a single miraculous sweep.  Being complex creatures, the answers to these situations, the path to returning to well being, is not the broad and gross singular action we’d like.

But incrementally, we can grieve freely, recognize that by our desire they’d still be enjoying life, know that we can summon their presence by memory at will, and step in the direction of our own well being one step at a time.

Well being often relies on our approach to it, turning in its direction, taking little steps towards it, not standing in the place of pain and calling well being to come to you.

Do you believe you need to participate in your own well being?  How much do you participate?  Take your vitamins, think some scenarios through beforehand, study wisdom teachings, try to help guide others to well being when they are standing in pain, change the oil in your car regularly, recognize that change is inevitable in finances, health, relationships, and machinery.  Make your values and thought systems effective guides to your well being, realizing they may need to direct many elements at once.

Be well.