My responsibilities as a coach

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby 2017While I am listening to feedback and suggestions about how I teach martial arts I have been keeping the core of my style and approach unchanged for years.  By teaching martial arts and fighting techniques I am empowering my students to defend themselves and to become better people but, with power, come responsibility which I take very serious.

Here are a few key points which are the pillars on which I base my teaching:

Learning martial arts takes time and dedication

If you had the illusion of becoming proficient in martial arts within a few weeks or months you took up the wrong activity.  Nowadays most people train martial arts as an alternative to other sports or hobbies and they want fast results.  Learning martial arts should however be seen as a medium to long time project, where some results can be seen within months but decent proficiency comes after a few years of regular and frequent attendance (e.g. 2+ 60-120 minutes lessons per week).  My responsibility in this case is about creating an environment which fosters dedicated training and cooperation among all members of the club and continuously challenges everybody’s skills and performance, including mine.

Learning martial arts helps you to rationalise the irrational

In its most essential form fighting is about survival; when our ancestors got involved in a fight it was about defending their homes and families from invaders or from fierce animals or perhaps about invading other people’s territories; it was no game and it was about life and death.  Most people react irrationally to a fighting situation because when adrenaline is released, even in a controlled environment like a martial arts gym, it causes some people to lose control.  Training martial arts helps to cope with this irrational feeling and channel the energy toward better physical and mental performance.  My responsibility in this case is about encouraging everybody to challenge themselves and understand where their threshold and comfort zone are and push them further.

Tough training helps to cope with tough situations

Whether you are training for sports fights or for self-defence it’s essential to test yourself toward a range of tough situations.  In a sports fight your opponents will try their best to beat you within the rules of the fight, sometimes trying to bend such rules for their advantage.  If you find yourself on the street and need to use your self-defence skills you better be used to tough attacks, the most unpredictable ones; your street opponents will probably have no rules about fighting and potentially go for the nastiest attacks.  Here is where my responsibility is about reminding people about their limits and potential pitfalls in their skills and techniques.  I am trying to help them to train in a way that pushes their skills beyond their current limits and make them better fighters.

Martial arts can be for everyone but they are not

Training martial arts is in my opinion one of the most satisfying and complete form of exercise for body and mind.  Many people start and nearly as many give up with days, weeks or months.  Many novices cannot cope with the learning, complexity of movements, fitness requirements and so on.  It takes time, consistency and dedication which most people simply don’t have.  I encourage most people to try and, depending on a number of factors, I might push them more or less toward a tougher training, sooner or later.  In my experience of practicing martial arts for nearly 40 years and teaching for the good part of 30 years I met super talented people giving up at their first hurdle, which they never expected to happen.  I have also seen many not talented people becoming great martial artist and champions.  My responsibility in this case is about managing their expectations and feedback, in the most constructive and objective way, how they can improve and what they should do.

What I learnt from teaching martial arts

Picture Copyright Duncan Grisby 2010There is an old saying that goes: “if you can’t do teach”; for me teaching has actually improved my doing.  In fact my knowledge about martial arts practice has dramatically improved since I started teaching.  When I first learnt martial arts I was in my early teens; I remember struggling initially with coordination and fitness but, with continuous and consistent training, I reached a good standard within months.  By all means my technique and proficiency kept improving for years; as most movements and techniques were quite natural for me, I never had to analyse too hard how I was doing things.

Years later, when I started teaching, I realised that people from all walks of life were approaching martial arts and, as it happens, some of them were terrific, some hopeless and the majority in the middle.  By teaching martial arts to people who are not naturally talented and/or fit and/or coordinated I realised that many of them require much more explanation than showing the technique a few times and hoping they learn it.  Many people need the technique to be deconstructed and explained; in same cases a clear description of the muscles involved is necessary to fully achieve the expected result.  By analysing each technique in detail, including what muscle groups are working how and when, I forced my mind to grasp every single aspect of each movement and by improving my awareness about them it has greatly improved my technique.

Hello 2017, good bye 2016

Happy new year to everyone; 2017 starts with its first lesson today, 3 January, keeping our regular schedule of 4 lessons per week for the next 51 weeks.

We are already planning our usual Town vs. Gown fight in February where members of all clubs we are training (CARISMA, CUKBS and ARUKBC) will fight members of the other clubs.  This is a great opportunity for all beginners to have a go at sport fighting in a friendly and controlled environment, before trying other tournaments.  Later in the year several members of the club will take part in various regional fights, both light and full contact.  CUKBS will be fighting Varsity in Oxford this year and their training regime has been under tight control since the beginning of Michaelmas term in October.

As usual we will be having 4 grading sessions in March, June, September and December.  On the second Saturday of June we’ll have the annual CARISMA BBQ and on the first Sunday in December, after grading, we’ll have the Christmas dinner.  These events are already on the club’s calendar for your perusal.

As our aim is keeping a critical mass of at least 60 paying members at any given time we will be recruiting beginners any time we need more members but pausing when membership is in line with our expectations.  Our first beginners’ course for the year will start on 19 January and, as usual listed on our calendar.

2016 was another good year for CARISMA, with a large number of new interesting people who joined us, and classes consistently larger than previous years.  We found ourselves with a reduced percentage of undergrads students, from both University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin; good news is that we replaced them with high school and post grad students as well as young professionals both male and female.  This change has increased the retention of our members and the consistency of their attendance as undergrads students are around for about 6 months per year and their attendance tends to be not as regular as we would like.

An individual achievement which is definitively worth mentioning is Meitar Blumenfeld as our first winner for a full contact fight; it has to be said that our whole full contact team to date had a total of 4 people, over a long period of time.

For a number of personal reasons we lost, within a short time, 3 of our instructors; fortunately we were working, in the meantime, to train some of our most promising senior students to be their replacement so it all happened smoothly and according to plans.

Whether you are a regular member or a casual reader interested in joining us we hope to see you soon and looking forward to train with you during 2017.

A dozen reasons for training at CARISMA

rp_busyclass-300x203.jpgCARISMA has been around for over 16 years and over this long time we have been training thousands of people from all walks of life, both male and females aged from early teens to mid-sixties.  Many of the people who moved on, for one reason or another, keep writing back about how much they miss CARISMA and how unique this Cambridge based club is.  I thought it’s a good idea to list, for those of you who don’t know us yet, why you should join us at your first chance:

  1. Wealth of knowledge and experience: CARISMA is run by 7 instructors between head coach, instructors and assistant instructors. Most of them have been with the club 10 years or longer and they currently have combined martial arts experience of 100+ years.
  2. Four classes per week included in your monthly fee allow great flexibility for training very busy people as most of our members are.
  3. Calculated on 4 sessions per week our fees cost you between £1.61 and £2.19 per session.
  4. We specialise in American kickboxing as well as we understand, know and teach basic concepts or other martial arts and self-defence.
  5. Beginners are taught, nurtured and taken care of, allowing them to learn in a very safe environment.
  6. While we are constantly encouraging people to push their training beyond their comfort zone we do respect and accept that not everybody wants to be a fighter.
  7. The considerable number of advanced people we have in house is enough to match the more experienced new comers who are looking for a real challenge in their training.
  8. Our equal opportunity policy is encouraging the less skilled ones while rewarding the talented and committed.
  9. Members of CARISMA belong to a great variety of age range, weights, body sizes, experiences, nationalities and genders: you are likely to meet several people who match your style and preference of training.
  10. Apart from training many local residents who work in Cambridge we are the official coaching body for both the university of Cambridge kickboxing society (CUKBS) and Anglia Ruskin university kickboxing club (ARUKBC).
  11. We are a non-profit organisation so our fees keep the club running rather than paying salaries.
  12. CARISMA is a fun bunch and there are frequent informal events like drinks after training as well as regular social events like summer BBQ and Xmas dinner.

Just to conclude: CARISMA is the place for you to train in Cambridge.  Whether you are a beginner interested in learning the basics or an advanced looking for your next fighting challenge you should join us and you will find a stimulating environment to foster your passion.


Slow start after long breaks

With 15+ years of history CARISMA has trained thousands of people which joined us, trained with us for some time and then, for various reasons, left us. It happens once in a while that somebody who left months or years before decides to come back which is always appreciated from our side.

I decided to write this post about prescribing a slow start for people who rejoin a martial arts club in general, CARISMA specifically. It was inspired by four former members of our club that during the last year have decided to re-join us and, not following my suggestions, gave up within a few weeks. The idea of slow start after long breaks is something that everybody should apply, whether you have been on a long holiday, took a sabbatical or moved temporarily away from training.

Let’s start from the beginning of someone’s training history, which might be similar to yours; you were feeling unfit or looking for a new challenge and decided to join our club. At CARISMA we welcome beginners from all walks of life, within a very broad range of ages and backgrounds. The majority of people joining us are not as fit as they would like; most of them are not as fit as they should be in order to perform at our average level of expected speed, power and accuracy. Upon joining most people experience a more or less steady progress toward fitness and proficiency which may be eventually reaching a peak or a plateau within a few years.

At that point you feel nicely fit, able to perform most exercises without struggling too much; if you are never struggling you are not pushing hard enough. Some training might be more challenging on power, others on endurance; others might push your skills to their limit. I hope it sounds familiar because that’s the way our training regime is designed to deliver. A continuous challenge that explorers all aspects of training martial arts, with the aim of creating a well round martial artist.

Imagine now that for some reason you stop training martial arts; if you are reasonably active person you might keep running, swimming, cycling or going to the gym. Your physical and cardiovascular fitness perhaps doesn’t drop that much and you still feel you can go back and pick up your martial arts training where you left it; here is where disappointment starts, for three main reasons:

  • Your mind still remembers pretty well most moves as they should be performed. Your muscles might have lost some reactivity or that level of flexibility which allowed you to block a fast attack, punch somebody and surprise them or kick to someone’s head.
  • Some of the people you still know at the club have progressed a great deal; some of them were just beginners when you left a year or so ago and now they are fit, fast and wining fights. You were used to nearly play with them, now they do the same with you and that’s very frustrating.
  • The two above reasons cause you to get hit more than you were used to and when you get hit it hurts more than you remember. That escalates de-motivation and often causes people to leave within weeks.

The simple solution to the problems described above is to manage your expectations and adopt the “slow start after long breaks” approach that is far from super scientific but it helps to avoid the above described situations.

Never mind you were an intermediate or a black belt: accept it will take some time to get back into shape by following these rules:

  • Give yourself 4-8 weeks; during that period you will accept your performance will be suboptimal
  • Approach each exercise at 50%-70% expected performance; don’t even try to achieve full 100% so you won’t be disappointed by the fact that you cannot
  • If you are training with partners try to find people which are either less experienced than you, lighter than you or both; training with them will not push you beyond a threshold that will show your reduced performance

Depending on your specific genetics you might catch up in a shorter time or perhaps a bit longer but managing your expectations and be realistic with your achievements will help you to get back in shape and keep enjoying your training.