Blog from Kai Morgan: Discover your Depths – Seven insights for martial artists from a world record-holding freediver

I am loving this blog post from Kai Morgan!

“Your body is the vehicle for your soul to touch, taste, smell, feel and have amazing experiences. The reason we know our truth in any given moment is because we feel it in our body. We’re given the body so that we can know our truth . . . ” The post Discover your Depths…

via Discover your Depths – Seven insights for martial artists from a world record-holding freediver — Budō Inochi

Posted in Other Blogs

Leave the ego at the door

Ego – def. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.

Saying someone has a large ego or a super-ego is generally meant as an insult yet arguably we need some ego in order to keep functioning in daily life.  Lack of self-esteem can be a larger issue than an over-inflated ego even if the former is easier to deal with in other people.

Last night in Kenjutsu the subject of egotistical people (those who are excessively conceited or absorbed in themselves) came up during training.  I hastily add that no one in that dojo has ever struck me as egotistical but that doesn’t mean I haven’t encountered a few egocentrics both in and out the dojo.  Of all the places I dislike egotistical people the dojo has to be the main one.

Studying and training in a martial art  is a path of continuous learning.  It’s impossible to know everything on a martial art.  On a simple level every person you train with will be different in their attacks and react in different ways to what you do to them, both mentally and physically.  At an intermediate level your own body changes as you get older and techniques you could once do have to be adapted to allow for the ageing processes.  Japanese martial arts and Zen Buddhism refer to the importance of Shosen, lacking preconceptions when training, thus maintain a beginners mind no matter how advanced your training is.  Sounds easy, but often our egos get in our way.

A few years back I was at a weapons seminar with a fantastic instructor who showed us some techniques with variations I hadn’t seen before.  After a while he called a halt and called out two people.  Pointing at an older man he barked, “how long have you been training?”
“Over 30 years,” came the reply.
“And what about you?” asked the instructor to a younger girl.
She looked up at the clock.  “I  started for the first time 40 minutes ago,” she said quietly.
“Yet she, ” continued the instructor, “is the only person doing what I asked.”

Ego, and to a certain degree habit, had got in our way.  Our minds decided they knew better than our eyes.  We had attended that seminar to learn new things not to repeat stuff we thought we knew.

Sadly you occasionally see inflated ego in those that teach.  The one thing that makes me grit my teeth are instructors who wont admit they have made a mistake.  I’m not expecting a full apology, just a quiet, “I’ll do that again.”  Yet I have encountered teachers who try and pretend their mistake is a genuine technique even when it blatantly is anything but that.  My favourite instructors are the ones that make mistakes, and better still those that take the mistakes and use to demonstrate how easy it is to fall into a incorrect technique trap.  It proves to me those instructors are human and I can relate them to far more than the ones who never appear to cock-up.

I don’t think Shosen is easy to develop.  There’s a fine balance between being open to new ideas and being so overly critical of yourself that nothing is ever gained.  I had a wonderful example in Aikido training a few weeks back.  I was training with someone who was just having one of those blank moments (we all get them).  I patiently went through the technique and at some point he queried what was being done.  It would have been easy to have dismiss this confused almost-beginner to my admittedly-not-very-long four years Aikido practice, but something made me listen.  Instead we went slowly through it and together produced a working technique.  We both learnt something that day and probably both gained more respect for each other.

I guess we all have to watch our egos.  However, I am going to have one very self-centred moment and say this.  Within six days I passed my 4th kyu Aikido grading and my 5th kyu Iaido grading.  I just needed to put that on the blog somewhere!

Meanwhile, be you an instructor or student please leave the ego at the dojo door.


Posted in General observations, Mental development, Training | Tagged , , , , , ,

Practise, practise, practise

An interesting article by Deborah Klens-Bigman on the benefits of Solo Iaido practice.  The only thing I have to add is that if you circumstances force you to train at home then please check the ceiling height by carefully drawing your weapon!

Posted in Iaido, Other Blogs, Training | Tagged , ,

Martial arts, druids and everyday life

I am a pagan druid. I have never felt this relevant to mention on my martial arts blog because until recently I viewed druidry and martial arts as two very different aspects in my life.  A book as a Yule present this year gave me pause for thought.  (Yule is celebrated on 21st December when pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year and the return of the sun.)  The book  was Flashing Steel by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Leonard J Pellman.

As well as addressing technical aspects of Eishin-Ryu Iaido (the style of Japanese swordsmanship I practise) Shimabukuro and Pellman explore the philosophy behind Iaido.  From the book I learnt that the kanjii for martial art breaks is derived from the terms prevent and conflict, making the idea of sport martial arts seem an oxymoron!  The authors also explain the importance of Heijoshin (peace of mind) in martial arts.  This be expressed through a balanced mental development in:

  1. the intellect,
  2. the emotions,
  3. our character.

Mental development is something that will last us a lifetime (or for most of it), where as physical development will inevitable peak and decline as we become older.  Good mental development allows us to “win” in many situations long beyond the point where brute force dominates.

To read this in a martial art book was fascinating.  My jiu jitsu teachings have never really emphasised mental development, it’s implied but rarely specifically mentioned.  Aikido touches on the subject occasionally, but the iaido has certainly bought the importance to the fore.  Yet the principles of heijoshin discussed in Flashing Steel are the very things I seek to cultivate in my druid practice.  While I carry those druid teachings over into my daily life outside of work I rarely put them into practice in my work and I have never consciously applied them to my martial arts.

As humans we have a habit to compartmentalise things.  (Think how confusing it is to meet a work colleague when out food shopping, they belong in the work environment not the bakery aisle.)  Yet segregating thought patterns limits our understanding so we perceive only the surface of a subject rather than develop a deep understanding.  Core skills are transferable and these include the mental disciplines we develop.  Theoretically I am well aware of this but my application has been lacking.

As an example.  It is easy for me to apply peaceful negotiation when someone tries to be confrontational down the pub but trying to find the peace within my own antagonistic mind at work or in the dojo?  I can use the same techniques for calming my mind but have frequently failed to do so.

I guess my point is that we should not take our martial art lessons as only something for the dojo or for combative situations.  We can use them anchor ourselves in life more solidly.  Similarly it is foolish to ignore lessons from outside martial arts because they lack immediate obvious relevance.

So don’t think this…


Doesn’t relate to this…


Because it does on so many levels!

Now it’s over to you to think of connections between your martial arts and other aspects of your life.


First image:  [OBOS Summer Gathering 2016, with yours truly in the picture.]
Second image:  [Yes, spot the druid now wielding a sword.]


By a complete coincidence Andrea Harkins published a very similar post on Google Plus today to promote her new book, The Martial Arts Woman.  Great minds think alike Andrea!

Posted in General observations, Mental development, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Child protection

The UK has recently been made aware of historic child sex abuse in football, but sadly it would seem that football is not the only sport where this has happened.  While we have currently legal measures in place to vet adults that are responsible for teaching children (known as Disclosure and Baring) they are not by any means foolproof.

Martial arts is very much a hands on.  One of the reasons I have huge reservations about training with under-16’s is that an accidental contact with an adult’s privates is very different to an accidental contact with a child’s privates.  In the UK we have a deep disgust of paedophiles and even the shadow of an accusation can have long lasting consequences.  I’d rather avoid a potential situation by not training with children to start with.  However, there people are willing to train children and recognise the benefits in doing so and occasionally I find myself in a situation where I am training with people under the age of 16.  This raises two questions.

  1. How do you ensure that you conduct yourself in way that a child doesn’t feel sexually harassed or leaves you open to false accusations?
  2. How do you respond when a child tells you that one of the adults they train with is acting inappropriately?

This subject is a tricky one and even asking those questions may make some people feel uncomfortable.  I hesitated several times before writing this and posting it the hostile world of the internet.  I also like to think everyone I train with is above reproach, but in reality I know little of their lives outside the dojo.

Here are some thoughts, please feel free to contact me if there are any more you would like to see added.

  • Firstly, comply with the law in your country when it comes to working with children.  In the UK this means DAB checks.  If your martial arts school is part of a nationwide organisation check that they have the same measures in place.
  • Ensure that there is always at least two  (maybe even three?) children and two adults in the room.  This way both parties feel more comfortable.  My aikido club sees the parents of the children sat at the entrance of the dojo while their children train.  (In addition if the children suffer any  injuries the parents are on hand).
  • It sounds obvious, but adults should  hold off getting changed until all the children have left.
  • If a child mentions something to you, take it seriously.  Children can be poor communicators, not knowing how to explain something to an adult.  With the historic  sex abuse cases in the UK it would seem time and time again when children did speak out their concerns where dismissed.  It’s easy to do but don’t automatically believe the adult over the child.
  • It may be wise to have separate children’s classes, but I recognise that this is not always an option.
  • If an adult member of class says they don’t wish to train with children then avoid pairing them up with children.  The adult may have very good reasons for their request, which probably wasn’t an easy one to make to start with.  It’s not for the person teaching to question that request.

I would really love for us adults to have more open discussions about our concerns with working with children in a contact sport.  The one time I raised it at a dojo I was training at I was dismissed outright.  “You’re a nice person, you’ve got nothing to fear.”  No, I may not have, but I don’t have any children of my own and have had very little interaction with them.  Believe it or not I don’t instinctively know the line at which a child feels uncomfortable in a contact sport, and I don’t want them to dread training because of thoughtless behaviour on my part.   For example, is grabbing a child’s hips to correct their posture OK?  I don’t know, but to my mind it’s OK for adults to do to each other.

The subject of child sex abuse is a tricky one but by taking a proactive approach we can  ensure that all parties are comfortable and aware of the boundaries and hopefully avoid the worse case scenario.

Posted in General observations | Tagged , , ,

When is a retreat not a retreat?

After last weeks blog post I received some good feedback from online martial arts acquaintances – get your head down, train like you mean it, concentrate on doing your best and giving your best.  All this advice helpfully detail in this blog post by Ando Mierzwa :   Cue me going along to training with a very different attitude.  (Sometimes we need the metaphorical boot up the backside.)  And guess what?  Instead of coming away from training feeling like a failure I came away knowing I had gained something, that I had improved and that I knew exactly what to work on away from class.  So thank you everyone who commented on that blog post.

There is one thing I want to share, and which will also help jog my memory in the future, and this relates to a paired sword work exercise.  The aim is to help hone your foot work, striking technique and maintaining good distance from your partner.  It goes like this.

  1. Tori attacks – shomen (straight sword cut).
  2. Uki counters by side stepping and bringing their sword onto tori’s.
  3. This is then repeated with tori effectively chasing uki across the dojo.  At the end of the dojo you switch rolls and former tori is now chased up the dojo with the attacks.

All well and good.  Except when I was dong the counter we were making it across the dojo in about five attacks, but when I was attacking it was a good eight to ten before we reached.  I know I have small legs, but my stride isn’t that tidy.  What was going on?  Our instructor watched and then pointed this out.

“If you retreat a lot, he’s going to move in to close the distance.  If you stay put then he can’t move in because he can’t attack close up.  So he is adjusting to what you do.”


Well that’s like jitsu!  You can’t swing a punch if you are hugged up close to someone.  (And similarly you can’t make contact if you are more than an arms length away from them.)  So with my iaido by not retreating I was taking control of that attack.  In fact, I could even turn my counters to the attack into a form of attack by stepping in more.  Because if tori wants to attack he is now going to have to make room to swing that sword.

So in response to last weeks question about being scary enough, the answer to seems to be take the imitative and train hard.



Posted in General observations, Other Blogs, Training | Tagged , , , ,

When can I be scary?

Two new people joined our iaido school last month, which means I am no longer the very bottom of the class. Which also means when we line up at the start and end of the class I need to be a little more on the ball because the guy to my left is looking at me for what to do.

The style of iaido our school practises is Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū but on the last Monday of every month we train in Niten Ichi-ryu.  So far I have had six lessons (totalling 12 hours) formal teaching of Niten and as I type that out I realise that that’s the equivalent of my first week training in jiu jitsu.  Arguably I have had longer time outside of class to absorb the Niten lessons and get some practise in.

Some quick background information on Niten.  It is practised as a series of katas with a partner where one person is attacking (uchidachi), the other person responds to the attack (shidachi).  Like much iaido there is a certain level of mind games involved – using body posture, the way you look at your partner (not romantically!) and the intent you express.

  1. Shidachi has to encourage uchidachi to attack in a certain way.
  2. Uchidachi attacks and shidachi defends.
  3. Once shidachi has executed their defence they move in for their attack.


When you train you  are adjusting to the other persons stance and weapon reach accordingly.  But like any paired kata it works best when intent is put into it.  When our sensei pairs with me I don’t have to think, “oh this is the point where I step back,” I automatically flinch back because of the intent he’s projecting.  And yes, we train with wooden swords but I still have no desire to be clonked on the head with that sword by someone who looks like they are prepared to kill me with it.

It’s the intent I seem to be having the issue with.  My training partner was left trembling with giggles rather than fear when I went for my attacks.  OK, the physical technique needs working on (a lot) but arguably if I’m projecting that desire to cleave him in two then having my weapon at the wrong angle is a minor point.  But it seems I just don’t want to do that enough, as was pointed out to me by both my teachers and training partner.

My first thought was, “eeek, I’m too much in the mentality of defensive martial arts.”  Yet I recall a gauntlet run I did in jiu jitsu where no-one in the line would attack me because I looked too scary.  The sensei had to call a halt and tell people that someone had to punch or kick me in order for me to demonstrate a technique.

Didn’t even get as far as blocking an attack on that gauntlet run.

 So where’s the difference?  What did I have the day of that jitsu gauntlet run that I lacked so much of Monday’s Niten session?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Confidence.  If I feel I know something then you project that conviction without even thinking about.
  • Knowing the people you train with.  The longer you train with people the more you know how well they react, which then feeds back into the confidence point.  I don’t actually like knocking my training partners out (partly because it’s messy to clean them off the mat and partly because I loose training partners fast) so I tend to be cautious with those I don’t know no matter their grade.
  • Time training.  Nothing more to be said here.


Better go and pick up my sword and keep practising then.


Cover image from: 



Posted in General observations, Training | Tagged , , , , , ,

When nothing stops you

I have a neighbour, let’s call him Alun, who loves road cycling.  He rarely takes part in any competitive cycling but everyday he is out on his bike cycling the roads of the UK.  And I mean every single day.  No matter the weather.  In fact Alun loves cycling so much he recently cycled across the UK, caught the ferry to France and then cycled some more in France in order to start a European cycling holiday,  When the holiday was complete Alun cycled back to his home in the UK.  His friends thought him bonkers but part of me understands why he chose to do that.

I remember the love I felt for ju-jitsu from day one and how nothing would stop me attending as many training sessions as I could.  Other commitments were made low priority, work and social life revolved getting to the dojo on time.  Even with my current back injury I have to forcibly remind myself that I must not train until the back is better.  Short term training loss vs. long-term health gain.

This week I found I had developed a passion for my Japanese sword art (Eishen-ryu).  What had started as something to fill in the gap while my back issues prevent me from training in jitsu has now started to fill my thoughts.  Each day I find myself thinking about the katas, practising my stances and/or practising how I hold the weapon.  I want to do better.  I want to keep training.  Roll on the next teaching session!.

Studies into attitudes regarding exercise show that most people understand exercise is important for their health, but conversely they know they don’t do enough of it.  Reasons given for lack of exercise include the following.

  • Time constraints.
  • Health issues
  • Poor location.
  • Lack of knowledge.
  • No one to train with.

Let’s have a look at these reasons.

  1. If you have enough time to stare at the TV for an hour each day then you have enough time to go out and do exercise at least once a week.
  2. Don’t think that because you have health issue or disability that this precludes you from exercise.  Many things are adaptable be it team or solo sports.  Try something, ask the instructor, research on the internet to see what others have done(*).  Maybe you can’t be the rugby halfback but chances are there is something more suited.
  3. Miles from any sports facilities without any transport?  Walk, jog, follow YouTube videos on yoga, Pilates or hula-hooping.
  4. Try not to be put off going to a gym or a sports for the first time, everyone in there was new at some point. Tell people you are new and you will be surprised how friendly they are.  People who have a passion for their exercise want to share the love!
  5. Don’t be frightened to try other activities if the one you are doing feels a drag.  Just because aqua-aerobics was not for you then it doesn’t mean you will not enjoy water-polo or just swimming 20 lengths of the pool each week.

I honestly feel that if you find a sport or form of exercise that you love and feel the same passion for that Alun and I do for our then exercise happens not because you feel it’s good for your health but because you genuinely enjoy what you do and want to do it better.  Go and try something today because until you do you wont know how fun you find it.

(*) Check out this blog.  The Karate Kickin’ Dwarf.

Posted in Training | Tagged , , ,

Sitting on the side of the mats

A fellow blogger has discovered that sitting on the side of the mats watching other people practice is a good use of time.

What Do You See?

Posted in Other Blogs

Cross-dressing in kenjutsu

Alternative title: the problem with wearing martial arts clothes designed for men when you are a woman.

A consequence of my persistent back injury has been a pause in my jiu-jitsu training, a slow down in my aikido training, and the start of training in Japanese swordwork (kenjutsu and iaido).  While I have been carefully managing to dodge my hakama wearing in aikido (hakama being those big baggy trousers some martial arts wear) it has become rapidly apparent that I can’t really get away with this for the kenjutsu.  Why?  The art of drawing the sword partly depends on all those bits of string that go around the waist region – obi and hakama ties.


Image from

So I gritted my teeth, donned the dammed hakama and within an hour was reminded why I don’t like wearing them.  They are designed to be worn by men and women have a different shaped body.

Now I fully understand that historically martial arts were the provenance of men.  I also understand that the martial arts I am studying originate from Japan and an oriential body shape can differ considerably from a western body.  For those that haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of wearing hakama let me just run down how to wear them.

  1. Tie your obi (belt) around you.
  2. Put the hakama on.
  3. Bring the front set of strings around you twice and tie at the back.
  4. Bring the back set of strings around you and tie at the front.
  5. At each stage the ties need to be tight to prevent them becoming loose.


If I wear the hakama in the correct position, just above the hips, I can draw the sword correctly.  BUT because my body shape thins above that to my waist then the obi and hakama rise up, become loose and then come undone.  Cue the entire class pausing while I tie up all the bits of string again.  This is not a problem most men have!

If I wear the hakama on my natural waist line then nothing comes undone.  But now the sword sits so high I can’t draw it properly.  And,to put it bluntly, the sword knocks my lady bumps when I draw it out from my belt.

Am I the only woman who has this hakama wearing problem?  Are there any female kendo, iaido, kenjutsu or other weapons based Japanese martial arts systems that have come up with a good way to tie them?  Please let me know.


Image from

Posted in General observations | Tagged , , , ,


I have been thinking a great deal about adaptability in martial arts of late.  Every modern martial art has evolved over the years, no style has remained static.  Of the martial arts I practise it is a requirement for the higher dan grades to show they can continue to evolve and adapt the martial art, “to make it a style that is uniquely theirs.”

The first trigger point for my thoughts was the excellent article by Kai Morgan, hosted by the Karate Kickin’ Dwarf,  about teaching martial arts to people with physical disabilities.  Amongst the issues Kai discusses is how we view people and the parallels between able-bodied and non-disabled.  We frequently adapt our training without much thought for people taller, shorter, heavier, lighter etc, so this can be readily extended to people with disabilities.

The second trigger was I had injured my back, again.  One of the side effects of this is I get horrible pain in my left hip so I cannot land from throws on this side.  Ironically after the initial high intensity pain has eased off from my back pain (typically three to four days) I need the exercise martial arts gives me to prevent the muscles seizing up and becoming stiff.  My doctor assures me that I cannot damage my back, what I have a is nerve issue rather than bone, disk or muscle damage.   I can carry out the techniques, I just have a limitation in how I receive them, i.e. I can’t deliver right-handed punches because that leads to me being thrown on my left side.  Consequently I couldn’t do my jitsu grading.  To say I felt frustrated is an understatement, but everyone I spoke to said, “well, it’s just too confusing in the heat of a grading telling people you can only land on your right side.”  To be honest, I partly agree.

Then the Stick Chick wrote a blog about some of the reasons she felt why women find it difficult to progress in martial arts.  And I found myself glaring at the computer and muttering, “what is with the inflexible attitude of some martial arts?”

In the last three paragraphs I have shown that there are people out there who want to learn and progress and show that they have progressed in their chosen martial art, but often artificial barriers are erected that can lead to a person loosing heart.  No, I don’t expect that with my back problems that I can carry out a full range of techniques, but there is a heck of a lot I can do.  No the Stick Chick isn’t expecting her partner to take over the childcare so only she can progress, but she would like to see a more integrated approach with martial arts classes and childcare.  And again, I am sure people with physical disabilities acknowledge that you can’t do things exactly the same, but if a man with one leg can learn taekwondo then it just shows that adaptability to teaching, training and assessment is vital.

So next time someone turns up at your martial art class and says, “I’d love to learn but…” don’t see it as a problem, see it as just another challenge in your own learning.



Posted in General observations, Training | Tagged , , , ,

Knees must

I have one very simple New Years resolution for 2016.  I will bend my knees more when doing blocks and throws!  And then bend them more.  If nothing else I want to her constructive criticism beyond the, “you can bend those knees more!”

Posted in General observations, Technical | Tagged , , ,

Sweat and tears

Yesterday I spent a happy half hour in jitsu practising groundwork techniques.  The good points were:

  • Matched with someone who was good training partner.  (He was more skilled but lighter than me, so it all balanced out.)
  • Progression of technique.  The instructor started off with the basics and then went through the, “so if you can’t do that, try this.”  By the end of the half hour we had five potential responses to one ground lock.
  • It’s always good fun rolling around doing groundwork.

The bad point?  The guy I was with clearly hadn’t washed his gi (training gear) for quite a while.  Every time he locked me in a choke I was nearly tapping out from the smell!  It was only the quality of the groundwork that stopped me from calling a halt to the fun and games.

Jitsu is a physical activity and everyone gets sweaty.   BUT, there’s a heck of a difference between sweat that is two hours old and sweat that is two months old.  The former is OK, the later is disgusting, especially in a martial art where you spend a lot of time in very close proximity.  I have, on two occasions, flatly refused to train with people whose old sweaty gi’s were…. enough to bring tears to the eyes.

If you’re reading this and shrugging saying, “well, no one has complained,” that’s NO EXCUSE!  Even if you can’t wash your training gear between one session and the next then at least haul it out the bag and hang it up to air.  Better still, buy a second kit so you can wash one and wear one.  After all, do you really want to be that person no one trains with?

Posted in Uncategorized

Kote gaeshi

Kote gaeshi is a popular wrist lock in both jitsu and aikido.  Both those martial arts teach a “jump out” from the lock.  Dan Djurdjevic has explained a range of counter- techniques from a kote gaeshi application in his blog.  See it here!


Posted in Other Blogs, Technical | Tagged , ,

Good course?

I like to go on courses relating my martial arts.  You train with different people. you learn different ways of looking at known techniques, you learn new techniques, and you have a lot of fun with people who also enjoy their martial art.  Courses vary – they can be good, brilliant and (sadly) indifferent.  I have yet to go on a bad course, but I have come away from a few which have left me feeling a little frustrated with the lack of organisation.  So here is my view, as a student, on what I like to see on a course.

Flexible payment options
I appreciate that costs have to be covered, but try to think of the matter from a student perspective.  If other commitments make you unable to attend one day of a two-day seminar, yet you are expected to pay for both days, then chances are the student wont even turn up for the single day.  This week the British Aikido Federation have been running their week-long summer school.  You can either pay for the week block (£120, an absolute bargain) or you can pay for a day slot (£25).  I could only make one day, but if the charge had still been for one week then the organisers would have missed out on £25.

Mat/training space
The overcrowding of training spaces at a seminar is something that really irritates me.  This problem often occurs where someone well-known in a certain martial art is teaching.  I understand the need to cover costs, and to keep the cost down for each individual training, but if the instructor or his assistant cannot get around to see you because there are 200 plus people in the room, then really your benefits from the course are limited.

There is also the safety aspect.  If your martial art involves falling, then you need to be able to have the space to land safely.  I have been on one seminar where we couldn’t complete the throws because the mat was too crowded!  If your martial art involves weapons, then space is required to be able to move the weapons.

If need be, split the class in two for when it comes to techniques that involve throwing.  I have seen this done.  It allows half the class time to pause to recover their breath, watch what the others are doing and learn something as an observor.  Which neatly brings me on to my next point….

Time out
I am not superman, nor are most the people I train with.  A four-hour seminar should not have four hours of constant training!  People can only absorb so much information, then they stop learning.  Organise a break where people can have a snack and some water.

Splitting the class
To date my favourite weekend long course is the Auichi Jiu Jitsu annual nationals.  One of the reasons I love this event is because of the way the classes are run, alternating between everyone training together and then splitting down into smaller, grade based groups.  So a typical morning will see the entire mat train together, then the mat split into different sections depending on the kyu and dan grades present.  There are many advantages to this system.
a) The joint training allows everyone to learn off each other.
b) The grade related training allows specific techniques to be honed in on for a specific level of ability. It stops the lower grades getting frustrated because they cannot grasp the advanced techniques. It stops the higher grades getting bored and gives them a chance to practice advanced skills with people of equal ability.
c) It allows other people to teach. These people may not get a chance to teach much in their own club.

Social event
So you train with your fellow martial artists all day, then you shower up and go home.  Humans are social animals, we like to meet people.  Any social event after the course, be it a coffee, a beer, a pizza or a full meal, gives the chance for people to:
a) discuss what went on in the course,
b) get to know each other.

As a student, feedback what you enjoyed about the course.  I know it sometimes seems that the instructor has super powers, but I promise you that mind-reading is not one of them.  Let them know what was good, let them know (kindly) where you felt things could have been improved.  If you couldn’t attend the course that your own club organised, let them know why.

As an instructor, be open to the feedback.  Encourage students to tell you how they got on.  This is where that social event comes in handy.  You can’t please everyone, but if 90% of the class are saying something was good/in need of improvement then it’s likely they are right.

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