New to Martial Arts? Here is What You Need to Know

Michael Chin- New to Martial Arts (1)

So, your curiosity about martial arts has finally gotten the better of you. You have decided to roll up your sleeves and perform some research. If you want to know what to expect out of martial arts, you have come to the right place. I’m going to list out several things that you will learn very quickly when it comes to starting your martial arts journey.

1) Do your research. Whether you want to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Capoeira, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Judo, Kickboxing or MMA, you will want to figure out which art is right for you. More than likely, you will begin one, and adopt another and another. You will want to visit the gyms in your area to meet their instructors and see what they have to offer. Most places offer a free trial ranging from one to two weeks. You may want to sign a long-term contract or go month-to-month. Trust me, take advantage of the free week or two and try as many types of classes as you can. This will help you narrow down where you want to focus.

2) Once you decide which types of classes you want to take, you will need to purchase gear. If you take jiu jitsu or judo, you will need a gi and a white belt to start. Kickboxing and Muay Thai will require gloves, shin pads and a mouth guard. There are “start-up” costs to any sport and martial arts is no exception. Ask what your professor recommends and see if you can find affordable items online. The gym may also sell them for a little over cost.

3) No matter which martial art you choose, one thing is for certain, you will quickly replace bad habits with new ones. I will be honest here, I still struggle with some of my non-training related bad habits (cookies and ice cream), but I have knocked most of them out. Once you get started, you will begin to recognize your training bad habits and begin to correct them. The journey is a constant learning process.

4) Martial arts will give you much more than a physical workout. I personally go train over my lunch hour. I go back to work with a clear head. It’s like hitting a reset button. If you are stressed, you will leave the gym feeling better. Whatever you choose will not only help your physical health, but it will teach you problem solving, stress management, and enable you to keep a clear head. Martial arts is the ultimate meditation.

5) I am saving the best for last. The number one reason I love martial arts is because when you enter the gym you decide to call home, you are not just entering a workout facility, you are joining a family. You will enter a place where your training partners care about you on and off the mats. The camaraderie is like none I have experienced before.

Go visit your local martial arts academies. Visit several. Pay attention to how the members treat each other. You will know when you have found the right place for you.

Martial Arts and Mental Health: Therapeutic Benefits

Michael Chin- Martial arts & Mental health

If you want to improve your mental health, and you’re not getting as much out of that therapy session or yoga class as you wanted, there’s another option: martial arts. Martial arts has been shown to improve mental health as both a spiritual and physical exercise.

First of all, martial arts are a physical activity. Participants train to improve their strength, balance, flexibility, and agility. It’s a full-body workout that can really get your heart going. And like any other physical activity, martial arts provides both physical and mental health benefits, reducing stress, releasing endorphins, and developing healthy habits and coping mechanisms. Additionally, martial arts improve physical self-confidence. By knowing that they are in good health and physically powerful, participants may feel better prepared to cope with all sorts of stressors.

But martial arts has other, more specific, benefits, separate from those of regular physical activity. The depiction of martial arts in the Western world has often featured a lot of flashy hand-to-hand combat and impressive demonstrations of physical power, such as breaking wood or bricks with bare hands, feet, or foreheads. However, martial arts has its roots as a spiritual movement, with many of its concepts drawn from Taoism or Zen Buddhism. The spiritual emphasis of martial arts can be best seen in so-called “soft” martial arts, such as tai-chi, which focuses on the direction of energy inwards, rather than outwards, resulting in a pattern of graceful dance-like movements, rather than fighting. However, even “hard” martial arts often involve “soft” aspects, such as meditation, and some forms of martial arts, such as Shaolin Kung Fu and Goju Ryu, are neither hard nor soft, but rather a combination of the two.

Thus, counter to what pop culture might suggest, martial arts –even those that emphasize combat– have been shown to reduce aggressiveness in participants. Mastering the complicated body movements required in the various forms of martial arts requires a great deal of self-awareness, and that attention to detail translates to improved self-regulation and reduced impulsiveness. Additionally, martial arts forms come with various ethical codes or ideals. While the contents of these codes varies between forms, some common values include respect, sincerity, and integrity. A successful martial arts program will help participants how to live up to these ideals.

These advantages have made some mental health experts consider martial arts a form of somatopsychic therapy. This is therapy that takes advantage of the body’s effect on the mind in order to improve the mind by improving the way a patient uses the body.

 

The Importance of Self-Defense

kung-fu-2198043_1280People take up their studies of the martial arts for various reasons and the benefits are many. Some may wish to make new friends. Others may want to boost their confidence. Others still may want to manage their stress. These are all valid reasons for taking a martial arts class, but one of the most obvious advantages one can derive from the martial arts is self-defense. In fact, self-defense is often used interchangeably with martial arts. One of the definitions of “martial” is “characteristic of or befitting a warrior.” A true warrior never lets down their guard and knows how to defend himself in an attack, and this is the core value of the martial arts.

You never know when you may be in a situation where your self-defense skills will be put to the test. Many statistics cite reasons it’s important for women to learn self-defense, such as the fact that a 21-year-old woman has a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing a violent crime in their lifetime or that in 2010, women aged 12 or over were the victims of 270,00 rape or sexual assault cases in the United States. But really everyone, man or woman, should possess a set of basic self-defense skills. Anyone could find themselves in a dangerous situation at some point in their lives so everyone should be able to physically defend themselves if needed.

The obvious reason self-defense is important is to ward off an attacker and be prepared for dangerous and unforeseen circumstances. Let me break it down and explain just how and why self-defense skills would come in handy in the event of an attack.

It teaches you to plan your next move in advance

Anyone who’s had something stolen from them or been physically attacked in the streets will take measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again- not that these kinds of things can be actively avoided, but one will be more on their guard. Don’t let it come to that. Self-defense classes will teach you how to always be one step ahead of an attacker and to be more aware of your surroundings. No one plans to be attacked, but you can prepare for it in the event that you find yourself in a dangerous situation. Master Olson, a 6th degree black belt and owner of a karate studio, teaches his students to think as the attacker would, about where you could be attacked (where you’re most vulnerable) and where an attacker could be hiding.

It helps you to develop a warrior spirit

As I shared above, the meaning of the word “martial” relates to the qualities of a warrior. Learning self-defense skills will teach you to think and fight like a warrior. In addition to being fierce and strong, a warrior is a survivor. A warrior will not surrender to the attacker. In certain situations, it makes more sense to run for help or surrender your belongings over to your attacker. However, if you are attacked, you should be able to defend yourself on the spot to avoid being taken away or injured by your attacker.

It teaches you to be more aware

Learning self-defense will give you a greater sense of self-awareness, as well as awareness of your surroundings. You will develop quicker reflexes and be able to make fast and intelligent moves against an opponent. Being prepared in a fight just may save your life.

Systema Triple Threat Event!

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Five Books That Will Give You a Deeper Understanding of Martial Arts

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The martial arts are unlike many other sports in that honing your mind is just as important, if not even more important, than training your body. You’ll never master the movements of martial arts if you don’t commit to understanding the art as a whole and realize the vital role your mind plays. If you want to truly master the martial arts and make progress by moving up belt levels, then training doesn’t stop when class ends. When you have some down time, be sure to pick up one of these books to further your studies. You won’t regret it!

1. The Anatomy of Martial Arts: An Illustrated Guide to the Muscles Used for Each Strike, Kick, and Throw by Dr. Norman Link and Lily Chou

This is a great book for beginners to the martial arts that want a better understanding of the muscles used in key movements. The martial arts involve so many precise movements that one can assume they deliver great health benefits, but this book actually illustrates with colorful drawings and photos the specific muscles that are being exercised. By knowing which muscles go into the key movements, you can tailor your training to focus on those muscles for maximum strength and accuracy.

2. The Unfettered Mind: Takuan Soho

Written by zen master Takuan Soho in seventeenth century Japan, this classic samurai guide is definitely the oldest on the list-probably one of the oldest continuously-circulated martial arts texts in existence, actually. Despite its age, this is a timeless read that is not the least bit archaic. Soho wrote the book as a swordsmanship guide for the samurai Yagyu Munenori and its lessons are just as applicable to the modern martial arts students. The Unfettered Mind teaches the valuable lesson of how to connect the body with the mind, and the lessons it teaches were so valuable that his work inspired other classic martial arts works such as Miyamoto Mushashi’s Book of Five Rings and Yagyu Munenori’s Life-Giving Sword.

3. Zen in the Martial Arts: Joe Hyams

This 1979 memoir from martial artist and Hollywood columnist Joe Hyams, who trained under legends like Bruce Lee and Ed Parker, is “about life and philosophy, and how to turn a negative into a positive, how to defuse a situation by the way you handle it” and less about martial arts. It’s about how practicing the martial arts gave Hyams a greater appreciation for and deeper understanding of life. By reading this book you too will learn the value of martial arts- how it is so much more than just a sport and rather a way of life.

4. Research of Martial Arts: Jonathan Bluestein

This book professes to be a study of the true essence of martial arts. One can practice the movements of martial arts and its origins without ever arriving at the true meaning of the subject. The goal of this book, published in 2014, was to surpass all other martial arts literary offerings in the market and offer readers a unique experience. The aim, according to Goodreads, is to “present the reader a coherent, clear-cut, and in-depth view of some of the most perplexing and controversial subjects in the world of martial arts, as well as providing a healthy dose of philosophical outlook on these subjects (from various individuals).” Based on the book’s 5-star rating and rave reviews, I think it’s safe to say it delivers on that promise.

5. 25 Principles of Martial Arts: Kambiz Mostofizadeh

The 25 main principles outlined in this book will teach you how to succeed not only in the martial arts, but in life. Some of the key principles crucial to the martial arts, such as The Principle of Apprenticeship and The Principle of Shifting Power, translate just as easily to business and relationships. If you commit yourself to studying and applying these principles, you will undoubtedly become a better martial artist, and if you expand your mind and weave these principles into the rest of your life, you could become a better person as well.

MMA vs Systema vs. Karate: Which Is Best?

sport-310088_1280When you search “what’s the difference between MMA and karate?” online, there are no shortage of applicable answers. Googling “what’s the difference between MMA and systema” or “What’s the difference between karate and systema?” yields far fewer relevant results, but that doesn’t mean Systema is any less legitimate a martial art.

The Russian martial art of systema is relatively new to North America (with the first studio outside of Russia opening in Canada in 1993). In the last two decades, numerous studios have been popping up stateside. If you’re thinking about beginning a martial arts practice (or if considering changing up your current regimen), navigating the different options (karate, MMA, kung fu, systema, etc.) can seem daunting. Knowing that systema isn’t as well-known as other martial arts, I’ve shared a couple videos here that demonstrate what systema looks like in action when set against other practices.

Systema vs Karate

The above video doesn’t demonstrate the best sparring match; it’s more of a demonstrate of possible ways to combat karate moves with systema techniques (not to mention that the narrator and demonstrator is speaking in Russian). Still you’ll still get a general idea of the visual differences between the two practices.

Systema vs. MMA

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is perhaps best known as the premier sport off the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), a group that organizes and promotes most of the sport’s popular showdowns. The definition of MMA is pretty self-explanatory based on its name: It’s a mix of different martial arts. Some industry insiders argue the legitimacy of MMA as a martial art, but a 2010 Bleacher Report article says the sport is here to stay.

The more traditional martial arts often focus on defending yourself against attacks, and your mastery is demonstrated by moving up in a belt system wherein you work on form and memorize certain movements. Where these traditional practices are based in self-defense, MMA is a more aggressive with championship ranking that are reminiscent of boxing divisions (featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, etc.).

So What’s Right For You?

If you’re curious about the various martial arts, do take the time to learn more about systema. There’s no right way to choose  the best martial art for you.  It’s all about your comfort level and interest. Only you can determine the perfect fit.

The Russian Martial Art of Systema Fighting Technique

Michael Chin Worcester Systema TechniquesThe Russian Martial Art of Systema is different than your everyday martial arts. Rather than learning how to attack, Systema’s training is more focused on learning how to respond to an attack. The existence of Systema is believed to predate back to the cold war era in the Soviet Union, but actually has roots in ancient Russian fighting styles that existed more than a millennium ago.

The style is a fluid, reactionary style that focuses on individual strengths and characteristics. The main focus is to erase physical and mental tension from the fighting equation so that the fighter is prepared for the next move. There is also a fair amount of importance on the starting-stance in Systema. The starting stance should be straightforward and natural; there should not be any immanence of a threat. The stance should reflect the position at which your opponent is in, acting as a preventative method for your opponents next attack.

For example, Vladimir Vasiliev demonstrated the starting position. His attacker came at him, and Vladimir swiftly kicked him in the thigh and punched him in the back of the neck while falling to the ground. This was all done in one swift motion. The purpose of striking in Systema is to hit the attacker unexpectedly, causing un-balance rather than pain. This manipulation of the attackers body is premeditated so that the Systema fighter has the ultimate control. With this kind of control, the Systema fighter is able to work with moves that disorient his attacker without injuring him.

The next critical proponent of Systema is being able to move in a manner that is undetectable by your opponent. When the opponent is ready to strike, he gives a tell and begins the full movement of either a kick or a punch. Here, your opponent is already committed to the move at hand, making him vulnerable at the time of the attack. This is when you strike in Systema.

Vladimir Vasiliev Systema Interview Recap

Michael Chin Worcester Russian Martial ArtBack in December of 2013, Rob Poyton interviewed Vladimir Vasiliev in regards to his entrepreneurial success in the Russian Martial Art of Systema. Today, there are over 200 schools that teach Systema with over 500 instructors.

Poyton continues to ask Vladimir about the future of Systema. Vladimir is happy where this martial art has taken him and has noticed positive effects from the people who stick with the training. He mentions the mental difficultness of understanding the entire art, which makes people gear away from continuing practice. It takes a certain type of mentality and focus to engage in the breathing and focus based combat.

Poyton then indulges about the uniqueness in the fighting technique of Systema. Vladimir responds by adding that there is a mental aspect to fighting that many martial arts do not tend to focus on. Most martial arts focus on the physical attributes of hand-to-hand combat whereas Systema focuses on maintaining equilibrium between body and mind. There is a stronger focus on living and health in Systema than with other martial arts that just focus on preserving society.

Vladimir also adds that Systema is a martial art that keeps its students improving until death. There are new discoveries and rewards every step of the way. Vladimir continues to improve on his craft. One of the purposes of systema is to reduce stress and fear to lead to clear thinking. This sort of clear thinking can really lead one to peace and strength even when not fighting.

Systema encompasses so many aspects of life that it is difficult to encapsulate in an entire interview. When many people think of martial arts, they think solely of the combat aspect. Systema is more than a type of combat. It is a way of thinking, breathing, and feeling. The physical aspect of the training has to be paired with mental preparedness that is learned overtime.

You can find the entire interview on Vladimir’s Russian Martial Art website here.

The Origins of Systema – Where It Came From

Michael Chin Worcester What is SystemaIn a recent article by Systema HQ, many people know martial arts but many don’t know about Systema, the Russian style of martial arts that dates back to the 10th century. System was first used as a method of repelling invaders from the north, south, east and west. Since Russia is such a large country, they needed people ready to defend the country from all directions. These battles to defend the country, happened in the blistering heat of summers and the cold days of winter. The russians were usually greatly outnumbered by the enemy forces. Because of their shortcomings, they created defense tactics that combined string will and innovative moves in order to compete with said enemy that wanted to invade Russia. The style of Systema is natural, free, with no strict rules, structure, or limitations. All of the tactics are based on instinctive reaction, individual strengths and characteristics.

In 1917 when the communists came to power, they suppressed all national traditions. Anyone who was practicing Systema at the time could be severely punished. However, as time went on, authorities realized that how effective and deadly systema was that they incorporated it in a few Special Operations Units. In Systema, the synergy of three components creates a true warrior: combat skill, strong spirit and healthy body. The body needs to be free of tension filled with endurance, flexibility, and effortless movement. The spirit of the warrior needs to be calm and free of anger. Lastly, the combat skill involves moments that are both precise and instant. This complete set of concepts and training components is what gives systema its name. Acquiring the martial art skill is a way to improve the seven physiological systems of the body including the three levels of human ability the physical, psychological and the spiritual. The goal of systema is not to necessarily be destructive but rather to make sure your training and attitudes do not damage the body or psyche of yours or your partners.

Another name for Systema is “poznai sebia” or “know yourself.” Taking the time to train in Russian martial art will sure help to showcase the full spectrum of your limitations. The roots of Systema are in Russian Orthodox Christian faith- the belief is that everything that happens to us has an ultimate purpose. That is to to basically help us understand ourselves. It was very interesting to see how something that could be considered deadly and self defensive could have so much meaning and roots in religion.

This blog post is based off of this article.

Michael Chin’s Training Lineage

Michael Chin Worcester Vladimir VasilievMichael Chin was certified by Vladimir Vasiliev to teach Systema at Mass Bay Systema. Vladimir is the director and chief instructor of Systema Headquarters located in Toronto. Vladimir was born in Russia and was trained in Systema and other intensive combative training. In 1993, he moved to Canada where he founded the first school of Russian Martial Art outside of Russia. He has trained and qualified 500 instructors in the Art of Systema. He is also an award-winning producer in Systema instructional videos. He has multiple government awards including the very prestigious “Order of Duty and Honor” and “Order of Loyalty” awards.

Vladimir received his Systema training from Mikhail Ryabko in Russia. Mikhail is a Russian Colonel and used to be assistant to Russia’s General Prosecutor of the Ministry of Defense. Mikhail worked in the Russian militia and trained the Minister’s security guards. He has won multiple awards for his work in the Russian military and protection of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served in Russian’s special unit for ten years, aiding in military affairs, hostage operations, counter-terrorist operations, armed criminal neutralizations, and training operatives in Russia’s special task unit.

Since Russia is the biggest country in the world, it had to innovate it’s own fighting style to combat invaders coming into Russia from it’s many vantage points. Russia had multiple enemies with various weapons and distinct forms of fighting; therefore, Russia had to develop a form of fighting that was based on instinctive reactions, individual strengths, and quick learning. Their fighting style had to be versatile, practical, deadly, and effective so that they could combat any type of enemy in any circumstance.

You can learn more about Systema here.

This blog post is based off of this page.