So you Study the Martial Arts?

The question then becomes are you a Student of the Martial Arts or a Martial Artist? Is there a difference, what is it if there is one and why does it matter anyway?

Well actually there a lot of differences between the two and in this case we will call one person a Student and the other a Martial Artist. Let me break down some of the principles or ideas that differentiate between the two and you can then take a look at your training and decide which one you are.

We all start training in one of the Martial Way’s for our own reasons and that in some ways can affect straight away whether you are heading towards being a Student or Martial Artist. Some schools are focused on attracting students, whilst others are on creating Martial Artists. This is not style dependant but more a focus that the Instructor or School wants to follow.

So what is the difference? Well most if not all of us start as Students and becoming a Martial Artist is a time based change as we progress through our training. Lets start with breaking down what makes each unique.

A student is someone who makes an average commitment to training 2 or 3 days a week and they will tend to allow other events to come in the way of their attendance. They put in the effort required or demanded of them during class, follow instructions and work towards attaining their next technique, belt, sash or level. They enjoy the atmosphere as a whole and are relatively easy to teach. The school becomes a service provider in that they pay their fees and expect classes, a relatively normal type of existence for today’s society.

This is not a bad thing and in most cases it is the standard. In fact having students is something that larger schools need, in able to support themselves. In some situations it is the number of Student members that help support a schools desire to maintain a program based purely on Martial Artists. It is symbiotic in that without students there would not be the progression for most into becoming a martial Artist.

A Martial Artist is someone who decides that their training is important and attendance at class 3 or more days a week is the norm, they are more likely to be at the training hall before class and are almost always around after class talking about different aspects of training. They are more interested in the history of the art, the progression of the art and show these traits by participating in more outside martial arts type events. In class they are more focused on achieving excellence within a technique over achieving a belt, they are a harsher personal critic in most cases than the instructor and are willing to put in more work before or after class to achieve. When it comes time to help the School they are always first to volunteer and enjoy being able to help ‘their’ school. With this added effort there becomes a feeling of being apart of the school, they are proud to train here and they want the school to succeed, whether this is by keeping the school clean, promoting the school to friends or working towards representing the school in tournaments or events. The school is no longer a place they go to train it becomes a place where they feel like they are a part of the family. Training and the related activities become something that they are passionate about; it is this passion that can be the major difference between them and a Student.

The other changes within a school that has a clear path for students to become Martial Artists, is that not only does the level of respect shown increase but the energy and focus on the training floor does as well.

Historically when someone walked into a school they were pretty much give a choice of adopting a Martial Artist type mentality to survive training or quit. However these days marketing has created more of a focus on attracting Students first and in too many occasions the school loses its ability to create Martial Artists. If we look back 15 years or more a Black Belt was someone of status and regardless of style or Dan rank someone who was respected. These days the belt has to a large extent lost its credibility and I credit this to schools that award Black Belts to Students, whereas our focus should be to maintain the tradition of making Martial Artists earn them. The secret of course is a simple one and that is to educate students why they should put in the extra effort.

For some examples from my Dojang (Dojo/Kwoon/Training Hall) I decided that I would not allow shoes inside the Dojang this included parents/friends/etc. All it took was to explain how it was a way of showing respect for the Dojang and now our students take pride in telling their friends to take their shoes off when bringing them along. At the same time we also implemented a system where our students are responsible for cleaning the Dojang which started with me cleaning the Dojang and asking for anyone who wanted to help, and over the following weeks it became a standard for everyone to give the school a clean after class, we have even implemented a process were testing candidates have to clean the Dojang before their physical test to show their humility and respect for the School.

Again I am not against the idea of Students I firmly believe that it is our job as Instructors to be able to show them the path to becoming Martial Artists, to be the guide and to be the support they need to choose to follow the same path we have. After all it is good to be passionate about something, but to be able to share that passion with others is even better. Are you a Student or a Martial Artist?

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

“Shaken or Stirred – Blended or Mixed”

What flavour Martial Art do you do?

Are modern Martial Arts signalling the end of an era? Are the days of the true Master numbered? Well probably not, but realistically the current direction so many martial artists are taking will have a large affect. The current trend is to Mix and Match styles, take what is useful and discard what is not, hmm where has that been said before? It seems every corner now has a Mixed Martial Arts school promoting the current trend. While there are most definitely some very good instructors who have chosen the MMA route it seems that everyone else has decided to jump on this band wagon.

The Martial Arts like so many other activities or hobbies goes through phases or trends, whether it was the Kung Fu years, the Ninja Time or the whole Cardio/Tai Bo Karate get fit period. So what makes the current MMA direction any different? In some ways it is far more powerful than those and truly far more dangerous as well.

MMA by itself is a positive idea, the general thought of ensuring that through your martial arts training you cover each of the ranges is positive. By that I mean having techniques which can include stand up, ground and in close fighting to cover all the possibilities of self defence. After all haven’t a number of the Martial Arts fathers in their own way done some of this when they created the mainstream martial arts we learn today? So where is the danger in the current trend?

The danger is in the loss of the true Master, the person who chooses to follow the path of his style over enough time to truly understand and master it. The person who lives their style, brings to it life and through years of experience adds in their own way to its uniqueness. If we lose these people, we lose so much more than just the history of a style, we also lose the future. So why is this happening?

The martial arts reflect society and its current drive to take the path of least resistance. Why study one style for 20, 30 or 40 years to mastery when you can learn 5 or 6 styles in a shorter period. It is common for instructors to start in one style, then grab a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A few seminars here and there, added to an intensive course and viola’ you are a MMA stylist. This might take 5-10 years and you now have some experience in each range or area of self defence. At this stage another path opens up, the instructor with his newly found skills chooses to create his own new MMA type style or system. So we end up with students leaving their original systems to create others without ever learning where they came from.

Now it was common in the past for Martial Artists to cross train and in Korea it was quite common for seniors to be ranked in a number of styles e.g. Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido and Judo. So how was that any different to today? Well if you look back at those very same seniors you will see that they still have a main style and most definitely a higher rank in that one. The other styles will be of a lower rank and regarded as not their main focus. This allows them to go on to Master their style while having had the experience of the others.

So if we look at the old ways and compare them to the new are they really that different? Well the focus today is more on purely stripping out of a style what works and discarding the rest, how can someone who does this ever truly master that style? The more this happens the more we end up with one singular blended or mixed system. Now from a pure Self Defence position this is a good thing, having defined what works and what doesn’t. However it is a sad day for the loss of the tradition, the loss of those attributes that make each individual style just that.

Are all Mixed Martial Artists doing this? No of course not there are some very well known MMA instructors who also have a very strong background in a single art or style. There are also those who have taken the MMA path as a means to simple self defence or for the competition aspects as well. The danger lies in those students/instructors who fail understand at least some core basics before blending or mixing what little they know with more. With the growth in popularity of the Mixed Martial Arts so to will be the longer term effects felt from the loss of those instructors who decided to change their path.

Only time will tell if the current trend to Blend or Mix will be a positive one or detrimental. However the respect for those martial artists who commit to their style, those who truly master a path will always be there. Learning different ideas and adding to your skill set is a positive direction to take, but why not do that from a solid background in one system. Take the path a little less trodden and possibly far greater rewards will come. Blended or Mixed, Shaken or Stirred it really comes to down to your taste, choose wisely.

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

“Real Training!”

Do you train for real, or do you train for reality? The difference is a lot larger than you think regardless of style.

The idea of a difference between real or reality training is more focused on those arts that have a combat focus or combat based history. It is less true with those arts that are predominantly philosophical or health related. And in using the term reality I am not referring to the more recent crop of ‘reality’ fighting styles.

If we go back in time to the foundation of our arts it was common for them to have come from times of trouble, times of war or times when conflict was a general way of life. As such they were designed to be used; it was common for the techniques to be tested in actual battle. Even in times when there was no actual war or fighting it was well known that the seniors would go out and test their skills. This is evident in Korea where many instructors would challenge others to fight, or they would test their skills on the streets in the more criminal parts of the cities.

When it became less accepted to ‘test’ skills this way, some instructors came up with other ways to check that their training was based in reality. Mas Oyama was one these, not only did he test his skills against bulls, he also created the 100 man kumite as a test of ability and spirit. Society has changed and with it the ways we can test our skills. That being said the option for the Kyokushin 100 person kumite still exists if attempted rarely.

Where does this put us today? The first step is to train for reality as opposed to just real training. The difference comes from the intent and the way you train. I define training for real as someone who attends classes and follows the directions they are given. They train reasonably hard 2-3 times a week and put in a decent effort. Does this translate to being ready for reality? Will their training support the ability to be able use those skills in a real situation? This is really dependent on the person, not on their training.

In training for reality the focus in the training needs to shift. For example kicking skills need to not only be trained in the air but in a real context. Firstly you have to be able to develop power from the kick on a target or bag. Then the kick needs to be put into a reality focus through training the kick the way it may be required. Try kicking when the opponent rushes in randomly, try kicking when the target is off centre and also try kicking when you need to shift your weight or balance first. When you are able to kick with power in each of these situations the kick then becomes a tool that would be more likely to work in reality.

The same goes for those arts that use a locking, throwing or grappling. The locking should be trained against grabs that include resistance, different angles and different force. Try using the lock while blind folded and try using the lock while your balance is disrupted. These training tools will help prepare the skill for use in the ever changing environment that is reality. A combination of training your skills to be usable and effective in as many variable situations is most definitely the first step.

The next one is to work on intent and focus. When you kick or lock, make the technique the focus; make the goal to complete the technique regardless of the variables. One good drill is to have a partner Kiyap/Kiai loudly and randomly during a drill to disrupt your focus. When you are confident of your skill, test it in the class. This does not mean taking out your opponent, more that you get your opponent to push your limits. As an example if the technique is a kick defence, get a skilled kicker to be your opponent and ask them to hit you with that kick. You still are aware that a X Kick is coming but now you are facing an opponent who has the skill to hit you with it. This will bring into play an adrenal reaction which is another way to be ready for the street.

The idea’s here are not style based more a way to train skills so that they are more likely to be practical in reality. Taking your training up to this level will not only provide better martial art tools but also a greater sense of confidence. Really train and train for Reality!

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

“Pass or Fail?”

Is earning a belt now a given or is it something to be protected?

Society is changing. This is a given but how does that affect the martial arts? The simple answer is in everyway but more importantly is it positive or negative in how. Lets take a look at just one aspect that in most ways is being affected negatively. The idea of belts as a measurement of rank is a relatively modern one and accredited to Jigoro Kano. The idea was to give us recognition as well as a sense of achievement of where we were on the path. That in its self seems to be positive. Most styles use a ranking system whether its belt, sash, badge or other. This then raises the question of how to award them.

This is one of the major areas where society has indeed influenced the martial arts. Most of us understand the degradation of the level or respect of Black Belt and it’s a point I have covered here previously. However this all begins within the coloured belt ranks and not only the way we award them but how we use this system for the good of the student. The question is should an instructor fail a student for being below par? The answer should be a resounding yes however that point is changing. Let’s look in little more detail at the idea of Pass or Fail.

Psychology tells us that positive reinforcement is better than negative. So that would lead that it is better overall to have students pass belt testing. The attitude becomes one of the calm as students work towards a belt that in some ways is a given. This is simplistic and I have heard the analogy of high school used here, where a student is in school for a set time and graduates as a class. If this idea is used, students that start at the same time should progress together and pass/earn their belts together. There are of course some problems with this as we all know that students don’t indeed have the same skills, desire or attitude, let alone work ethic. But still a regular promoting student is a happy one and many successful schools use this model to ensure a positive training environment and good student numbers. This idea was for a long time a backbone of a management companies success path, 1/3rd of all students should be testing each month.

As society becomes more of a gimme ideal or fast food mentality students expect to dot the I and cross the T to get their belts. There is a simple expectation that if they follow the minimum requirements for belt testing that they will get their belt. How many times have parents been instrumental in assisting instructor’s grade their children? Parent’s join the band wagon here as they too expect that their children will indeed get a new belt when they test. This combination of factors does increase the pressure on the instructor to use the above idea’s to pass more students.

Then why is failing a better way? It is of course a hard path to take and can indeed cost you students. However I have always been a fan of more education and more discipline. As long as students understand why steps are taken, in this case a fail, they are in most cases fine. The idea is simple, you are undertaking a test and as in life we sometimes fail tests. A true martial artist takes a step back reassess the challenge and then conquers it. This approach teaches a better focus, a better attitude and in the end produces a better martial artist. A story I like to use when preparing to fail students is The Apple. When you look at an apple tree you pick the ones that are ripe, you leave the ones that aren’t. Those apples didn’t fail, they weren’t quite ready. A little more time and those apples will be picked as well. Training for a test is the same, sometimes you aren’t quite ready and some extra time is all it takes.

I would say that approximately 20% of students within my Dojang fail testing at one point or another in their progression through the belts and so far 99% have continued. The key has always been to educate that failing is simply another part of the test and another part to work through. As long as students understand this and know that this system is in place from the beginning there are no issues.

So realistically speaking it is still far easier to pass than fail. It makes for less stress, less aggravation and a better atmosphere. But I feel it makes for a lower overall standard and in its way a lessening of what the Martial Arts stands for. Educate students on why belts are something to be earnt and not a give. Why at times they may need to take that one step back to go two forward. A student who can take a fail and then work towards a pass is indeed one destined to become a better martial artist, the one who quits….

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

“What is it about Rank?”

Rank, what is rank and why in the whole scheme of things does it truly not matter?

Rank seems to be such a focus within the martial arts and because of that it will always provoke a spirited response. However when it comes down to it, your rank doesn’t matter from one style or from one organisation to another.

Let us start with the idea of rank. Rank is a way of determining who has seniority within the school and this is primarily important to give an indication of which students have more knowledge. The story of the white belt becoming darker as a student trains, ending up as a Black Belt, is a good story, but it is also only that a story. The idea however reflects the process of a new student putting time into their training and gaining knowledge. Ranking was implemented to give those students an idea of where they were along the path. Of course it only reflects where they are along the path that relates to that style, and to that school. Therefore a Green belt in one school may have no relationship to a Green belt in a nearby school. So how can we judge one to the other?

Looking a little deeper into the structure of ranking, coloured belts are accepted as being stepping stones to Black belt or its equivalent. In my school a Red belt is the first level of senior belt, however in some Karate schools it can represent 5th Degree. This shows that the colour can become meaningless, so should we just compare black belts with black belts. This will only make the process even harder as some schools have 5th Degree as their highest rank, some 15th degree. Is a 4th degree in both schools the same? Have they travelled the same distance through their respective curriculums, achieved the same level of knowledge, of course not.

Then we also have the fact that in some organisations rank has to be physically tested for regardless of level, but in others it is awarded, or earnt through many non physical methods. Most tend to have a level of physical requirements which then change as the rank increases to recognition for time and effort. That too is also very dependant on style and organisation, so here again we see how comparing a 4th degree from one organisation with another is a moot point.

So why is rank important? To many it is external recognition, it is the yardstick however flawed that others see the practitioner by. When truly it only represents one schools internal level of recognition and this can change even within a single organisation. How many times have we seen Black Belts of the same rank from the same organisation perform at wholly different levels? However flawed the system is due to the fact there can be no real standard, rank still is needed.

Rank becomes a way for the school or organisation to set goals, recognise achievements and to create leadership. It structures how the student progresses within your style and also gives them a guide to who has been training longer and can assist with knowledge.

Every organisation has its own requirements for rank and I am sure that most have their merits. However it is not our place to directly judge those merits unless we fully understand them and how they apply. In my school black belt ranking is broken down in clear steps that include time in rank, an amount of training hours, an amount of specific black belt training hours and a technical requirement. This ensures that the student has learnt the technical requirements and at the same time has put them into practice sufficiently to attain their next level. This also gives each student a clear understanding of what each rank above them entails and what that student has had to achieve to earn that rank. This makes sure that respect for those attainments is always held at the highest level, and that everyone on that level has worked to the same standards.

So Rank becomes an individual recognition of attainment that in an effort to compare we need to understand all the elements that were required for that schools and their organisation. This is why in the scheme of things rank doesn’t truly matter, only the knowledge and effort it reflects does. The easiest way to determine if someone is worthy of their ‘rank’ is to train with them and only then will the knowledge that it should reflect be evident.

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

“My Martial ART is better than yours!”

Right about now you are thinking what style does this punk do?

Really that question can only be answered truthfully, by the individual, as it is a personal opinion. It becomes more a question of why do you do a martial art? Some of the key factors for undertaking the study of martial arts are self defence, health/fitness, social and personal achievement. These reasons will cover over 90% of people and why they decided to study a martial art. Let’s look at these factors a little more closely so we can understand why people study the martial arts. Then we can look at what styles are obviously the better ones.

It is common knowledge that people look to martial arts for self defence, after all that is what they are all about, right? Well if we go back far enough to that monk on a mountain in 3AD, it was probably why he first decided to categorise some ways to hurt someone in defence and viola’ we have a martial art. So we all turn up at the nearby Dojang/Dojo/Kwoon or Gym to learn how to “kick butt” and defend ourselves, but realistically is this why we stay training? For most the reason changes over time with maturity and it either becomes the health/fitness benefits, the social gathering of like minds or even the personal achievement they realise, be it from improving their self esteem, their confidence or from a sport aspect from winning or being a leader in their style.

When we understand the fact that we are all individuals and we realise that we are all studying the martial arts for ourselves, and then taking into account the aspects above, it then becomes which style is the best? Now this is where we need to realise that there is no one perfect or ultimate style, regardless of how passionate you feel about the one you are studying right now. Today it seems every style promises to cover all the aspects we are looking for and in reality most martial arts do touch upon each of them; however they also focus or prioritise one aspect above others. This is an efficient approach; after all we have heard the term “Jack of all trades – Master of none”. Styles have a focus be it Tradition, Sport/Competition, Health, Self Defence or even Performance.

Does that mean that one is better than another? Yes, after all if you desire to win gold at the Olympics your choices for a martial art are limited. If you want to compete against others for glory and recognition the styles you can choose from grows. This shows that depending on what each person wants to get from their study of the martial arts, a style or styles will be better suited to help them achieve those goals. If we follow this logic it becomes a personal journey in finding and learning a style that is going to give you the best path to your personal goals, the style that achieves this is in fact the best one, at least for you.

This leads onto the problem that students will undertake a style and then later on change styles. Is this a bad thing? Really this depends on why they left. If we realise that styles have focuses and we know that students mature in a style, and what they want to achieve in life can change. It becomes more of a question will this style continue to give me what I want or do I need to look somewhere else to achieve my goals. This has in some way been a driving force behind the eclectic or blending of styles, as people grow and realise that they need more from their style. Instead of changing styles they are adding or enhancing the one they currently study by adding attributes from another.

We step onto the path that is martial arts for a very personal journey and we seek to grow through our studies. We all have personal wants and needs and that is where a particular style can be the best. So this is the reason each style is the Best for someone.

When it comes down to it the martial arts have a wide variety of appeal and a wide variety of benefits. As an instructor the best way to grow your style is to understand and be true to what aspects your style specialises in. This ensures that if you are a style that focuses on competition then you attract people who are or want to be competitors. You have to remember that not everyone is suited to your style, however by being true and attracting the right people each student will know that they are studying the best martial art.

“My Martial ART is better than yours!”

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

Have we forgotten about our most important students?

Before we discuss whether Black Belts are students, we need to ensure that we are referring to a student who has committed a number of years of effort into attaining that rank, or similar, depending on the styles equivalent.

The Black Belt is the most recognisable goal attainable in the martial arts. It is what the general public perceive as being the benchmark to attain if you study one of the martial arts. Due to this perception the focus in most schools is in creating students worthy of earning a Black Belt. This is where the problems begin, from the first day a new student steps into the Dojang their focus, whether directly or indirectly, is to achieve the goal of Black Belt. This is reinforced over time with the progression through the belts/levels. It becomes the goal for so many that once they have attained the rank there is nothing else. The total focus on getting to Black Belt can make that seem like the completion of the journey.

It also becomes clear that people consider Black Belts to be instructors; of course they have more experience. However that experience doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to teach. This only reinforces the mentality that there is nothing beyond Black Belt. For those people who want to continue to progress they often feel they need to go elsewhere. This is commonly when people leave to study other styles, mainly as they seek to continue to learn. Chief Instructors also make the mistake of getting the new Black Belt to help with teaching and it isn’t uncommon to have new Black Belts open a branch Dojang. Being a Black Belt and being an instructor are two separate roles and should be kept that way.

There will be students who want to teach and they will follow that path and there will be students who want to be just that. This is regardless of level or grade, a Black Belt should have just as much right to only train as the newest white belt. Having an instructors program that is not tied directly to rank as a requirement but more as a choice is a major part of being able to keep Black Belt Students.

Becoming a Black Belt is a major step in most styles and it marks the end of the apprenticeship. The achievement should be recognised and celebrated as just that. However, throughout the process of preparing a student for the Black Belt test a small focus should be on covering the idea of post Black Belt progression. It is our responsibility to give Black Belts as much if not more chance to train than a regular student. After all they have shown their commitment and respect by putting in many hours of effort. If you split classes according to rank for your normal students you should also provide a class that caters for the seniors, this may not be purely Black Belts but the highest couple of Kup/Kyu levels. This not only gives the Black Belts an environment to learn but also gives you a great atmosphere to motivate the senior coloured belts.

Another area that is commonly weak and results in unmotivated or quitting Black Belts is the curriculum. So many styles try to cram all the knowledge into the belts before Black that there is nothing to learn afterwards. Coloured belt material should cover all the base movement and motion mechanics required for your style. Then the combinations and exploration of more advanced techniques should be Black Belt material. Your curriculum needs to reflect to what rank you are happy to have students. If you only want Black Belts that may or may not stay, your curriculum ends at Black Belt. If you want to create Masters your curriculum covers material to that level.

Your post Black Belt material has to be not only exciting but also challenging. The new Black Belt has worked hard to get where they are and should only expect to keep working at that level. Make sure the material is based on ideas from your coloured belt requirement but also pushes their knowledge and ability to perform those requirements. Ensure that there is also a clear cut testing procedure for testing beyond the rank of Black Belt. After most schools provide a fairly clear map to get to Black Belt, why not have the same ready for the progression beyond.

The process in my Dojangs is simple in that the prospective Black Belt is often asked about their post Black Belt goals; they are pre-framed for the idea that there is much more to learn. They are given choices on whether they want to be an instructor or student and both are supported. They are provided with a clear curriculum and guide to post Black Belt progression that takes them to the level of Master. They are shown the path that can be a lifetime of challenges and learning.

Grandmaster Geoff J. Booth

So for a change this time GM Perry drops me at the Graz Hauptbahnhof or main train station where I am grabbing a train from Graz to Zagreb—crossing Slovenia. It is around 4 hours and time to work on the laptop. We stop in Dobova where about 15 border police in 3 groups go through the carriages, I imagine this the border crossing, the first group look at and stamp my passport, the second group ignore me and the third group stamp my passport again, not sure if I entered Slovenia and departed on go or they just were stamp happy.

Anyway I arrive into a dark and wet Zagreb just before Midnight to be met my Vlado, Martina and a couple of the local students. Vlado, Martina and I head into the city for a late night coffee to catch up before the activities get underway. The next evening the local students put on a Birthday party that included copies amounts of local food, is there any other kind, as well as singing and a card with chocolates. It is interesting to see how the locals celebrate birthdays.

The next day it is time to hit the mats with some testing and signature work with the local students before the weekend’s seminars.

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World Tour 2015, Crotia: just 1 of the 5 training areas in the Combat Centar.World Tour Crotia 1

Another of the 5 training areas in the Combat Centar.

To add to my local sightseeing on Friday we head into the hills, well on the snow-capped mountain that overlooks Zagreb, well known for skiing and we meet up with some of the local students who are indeed enjoying the slopes for a traditional lunch on the mountain. I in general try to stay out of trip photos apart from the on the mats but just to prove I climbed up and froze a little on the snow covered peak I made an appearance.

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Saturday and the seminar was underway, topics on the mats included: Circles, Arm Bars, Hand Attacks, and Bag Fu for the first time. The day goes well with everyone getting involved and everyone enjoys the pain on the mats. Sunday is a bigger day with 9 hours on the mats, more hands on with S Locks, Arm Bar under, Turbo Topics and for a treat the Dan Bong. After the day group there was another seminar for Security/Military/Police and Bodyguards. A retired Army General dropped in and joined the fun and was very impressed with the ease of the techniques.

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Seminar Day #1.

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Seminar Day #2.

The plan for the week after the seminar weekend is to have the days for planning the future for the IHA here, as well as some sightseeing around the region. Once Valdo heard I visited 39 countries a plan was put in motion to tick off number 40. So we hit the road north towards Slovenia which is only just over an hour away, on the way we stop to visit a quite impressive castle, the Trakoscan Castle.

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A castle has to have weapons.

So the weather is excellent and after taking a look at the castle we head towards country #40 and Slovenia, now this is where the fun starts, unbeknownst to either Martina or I, Vlado likes to run the fuel pretty empty before filling up… So we head to the border which is a small back road entry where when Vlado asks for a stamp for my passport we are told we can’t enter the country and have to use the main entrance on the highway, this one can’t handle foreigners like an Aussie. So we do a turn and as we drive away from the entrance up the hill, Valdo exclaims we may have fuel issues literally moments before the car’s engine stops..

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The dread border on a hill.

When we left our intrepid heroes they were experiencing fuel issues on the Slovenia/Croatia border, now lets see what happens. Vlado feverishly pumps the peddle as he tries to restart the car, and at the same time we hit the crest of the hill, the car kicks back into life. The thought is the angle of the hill made what little fuel is left run to the back of the tank, so we cruise down the hill back to the Croatian border guard who tells us fuel is ‘only’ 8 kilometres away. So the drive safe and save fuel kicks in as we head for the nearest town with a petrol station. We make the town to find out that there is no petrol station and that the closest one is ‘only’7 kilometres away. About now you can forget doing a rain dance, there were 3 of us doing a fuel dance. The Diesel Toyota surprises us all as it chugs away and gets us on fumes to the next town, phew.

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Fuel for the car and relief for the soul.

We get back onto the highway and cross into Slovenia with no problems this time, and I chalk up visiting country #40. A brief drive later we are in Ptuj where we grab a decent coffee with some of the local Kickboxing instructors. They were at the weekend seminar and are possibly interested in adding Hapkido to their school in the future. After a catch up it is time for another Meat Platter, I mean meal before we head back to Zagreb to catch the evening class.

It is a long drive back, but after visiting the park well worth it. My last couple of mat sessions are a chance to fix some small issues and then to complete the grading the local students have been undergoing with the news of who passed and who needed more work. I am happy to say that more than half the students passed and that overall the technical level here in Croatia is off to a good start under Vlado’s guidance.

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Congratulations to the first IHA certified coloured belts in Croatia.

Of course I can’t complete my visit to Croatia without addressing the CGN Fabian challenge, and maybe even adding a pain face. Thank you to Vlado and Martina and the crew for making this an enjoyable stop with a combination of training, meat fests and sightseeing. Plans are already underway to have some of Team Croatia joining us at the ITS Australia in 2017, of course I will be back here in 2016 to keep the good work going.

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Cro Ki Do Dobok.

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Roman joins Team Pain Face.

A nice note as I checked out of my hotel, the front desk gave me a present of some local salt/pepper crackers and a bottle of homemade orange liqueur, just to thank me for the longer stay and putting up with some noise. Apparently some Korean guests were very loud, I can’t say I noticed them, still it was nice of the hotel.

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Crackers and Booze from the hotel.

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A sign on the plane, its German for Exit, but with 50 Aussies on a ITS flight it will be an AUSGANG.

Back into the friendly skies with 2 more flights, as I am on Austrian first I am connecting through their main city Vienna on my way to grab a Polish Air flight into Warsaw.

The next day it is time to hit the mats for the seminar, and I work on Arm Bars, Hook Punch Defence and Dan Bong to the delight of the local students. I also get the chance to tick off my first country for CGN Fabian’s challenge. Hello to the Hapki Combat Lederhosen, something I am not sure will catch on.

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Day 2 on the mats in Austria and Kick Defence is the focus, then onto defence from attacks from behind and as a special extra I wrap up the day with an introduction to Turbo Topics which is very well received. It was a good couple of days and plans are already underway to return next trip. I have told GM Perry that if he ever finds his way down under he is welcome to spend some time with us. Monday is a free day and we enjoy a leisurely morning catching up with e-mails, then heading into town for another schnitzel. For a snack afterwards we visit an original bakery established in the 1500’s. A good coffee, lots of laughs and the Austrian snack round up the sight seeing. After that we head back to the Dojang where I spend a couple of hours working with GM Perry on some of our Advanced Dan Bong, Sword and Reversal Techniques. On our driving around I notice a logo becoming more familiar in Aus, Aldi is a German chain that bought out Hofer, but the change in names didn’t work here, so they have the Aldi logo with the Hofer name to keep the locals happy…

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Established in 1569

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Familiar logo, strange name

*Side Note* Austrians are a pleasant group, for example when one leaves a restaurant or café, they say goodbye to the entire place, with most inside responding politely. They also switch to English when it is apparent you don’t understand German and are in general helpful. Overall you get the idea that most are happy to live here.

Onto Flight #2 Bangkok to Frankfurt with Thai Airways, this time on the Airbus flagship the A380. It truly is a giant aircraft and amazingly quiet in comparison to the 747. The flight goes well and I land in Frankfurt just after 5am, clear the minimal customs – queue raised customs eyebrow on my almost full passport – before heading to the Lufthansa lounge to grab a shower and coffee. I was lucky and the guy at the lounge entrance saw my Flyer status so he sent me to the better First Class/Gold Level lounge. Refreshed I head to my next flight this time on the smaller 737 with Lufthansa as we take the short hop into Graz, Austria where I am met by GM Perry Zmugg.

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It is good to catch up with GM Perry (Sin Moo 9th Degree) and we head into Graz, first stop a Bio Organic market to pick up some Vegetables, Breads, Cheeses, etc. It is a perfectly clear day, and at 10 degrees warm in the sun. After the shopping we head into the centre to take a walk around, grab a schnitzel for lunch and revisit the Schlossberg (The fort on the hill in the centre of town). We catch up over a coffee on the top of the Schlossberg and then meet up with his kids for dinner at their favourite Chinese restaurant.

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Bio Organic Market, Euro style.

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There is a plate under that schnitzel

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The Eagle at the Local Chinese restaurant

Check out the next post for the seminars.