When I took my Black Belt nearly ten years ago on the 16th October 2002, a date burned indelibly upon my brain through severe trauma. I am not joking if the preparation was awesome the grading was more so, I can hold my own in a fight, I can physically dominate others, I have kicked the living sh*t out of people, I know real life violence inside out, I can dish it out. On my black belt I got battered. I spent at least five days going up and down stairs on my bum courtesy of one Steve Rawson. On the night of my black belt grading I sat aching on the settee, when we went to bed I began to shake conclusively, my wife had to wrap me in the duvet and hug me tight, it was delayed shock. Lets say that the dog was less than happy with his walks for at least a week. It hurt and it hurt BAD but the inner knowledge that against severe opposition I had prevailed certainly helped, a lot. I got decked a number of times in the two long rounds of sparring against four opponents but I kept getting back up again, cue song:

Well let me tell you I have been down in the dojo and down in the street, neither is pleasant but in the dojo it stops, in the street it can, and usually does, go on, you can get stomped, kicked to f*^k, annihilated , even killed. High stakes amigo. I have done this to people, I regret it now of course, but back in the day that was the way things were, we fought to win, tooth and nail and if you did not f%£k up the other guy he f$£cked up you. That was the way of the world we lived in, a mean and nasty world. So if you went down you got up damn quick, or the boot went in and you stayed down. I have seen numerous people kicked around well past unconsciousness. In the dojo time is called when you go down, after all even the most committed sparring is not that bad and usually one on one, but come on, in the real world rules do not exist, it is nature red in tooth and claw and red stuff ends up flowing.

The thing about black belts is that the general public see them as a panacea. Once you have one you are invincible, NOT TRUE. Having a black belt means you can really fight, NOT TRUE. Having a black belt means you are actually a sex god beyond compare, TRUE, but only for me, not for other mortals. Joking aside the general public have a weird set of assumptions around martial arts in general. either we are capable of heroic deeds or just pretend Bruce Lees. The martial arts, varied and misunderstood as they are present a challenge to the masses. As we leave this current olympic period of huge achievement how many new members will we capture, very few I expect.  That is because a few see us as dedicated and efficient ambassadors of our arts, others as offering something they think they understand but do not, they see us like this.

My childhood heroes, and yes it was dated then but it lives on. Classic humour and hammed up to the nth degree. But is it based on reality, of course not, it was acting for films and acting for films then is the acting for films than, it creates illusions., So does poor or misguided training, it sets people up for failure if they need to draw upon what they have learned. However, good training with the correct mix of traditional teaching, practical application and operant conditioning underpinning it all  should do the job. However, to do the job properly you will need to learn to fight a committed opponent. Well within reason of course, at our club we do this in the period leading up to black belt grading, gradually ramping up the intensity and ferocity.

Gloved up and gum shield in our prospective black belts face consecutive opponents with rare rest periods, they are allowed to block only, to strike is to fail, we call it ‘putting out the love’. The love gets stronger each week but is full on in the grading itself. If you go down you get up, you may have to do this several times, tour body is screaming for you to stay down, let it stop but the brain has to over-ride this if you want to pass. Sounds mad and it is but it depends how much you want it and that is the gist of this blog. If you want something enough you will walk through hell and high water to get it.

Training this mentality is vital in martial arts, anything less and you should drop the martial. We are justifiably proud of our black belts at our club, we go through hell for them, step up to the mark and in the second round of sparring at the end of probably the most exhausting hour and a half of our lives we go again, this time we can hit back. Let me tell you there is very little left in the tank at this stage so running on empty it is incredibly hard to defend properly let alone hit them back through all the incoming, but it is the trying that matters. It is the display of heart that distinguishes our black belts and that will be true of many other clubs and disciplines. You will get knocked down, can you get up again?

Martial arts are a great metaphor for life itself, sometimes things go wrong, sometimes very wrong and those who do not cope sink whilst those who face adversity and spit in its face survive. Just think how often you have faced disappointment, trauma, disaster and had to just get on with it, we see it as a very British thing, keep calm and carry on, the blitz spirit etc but it isn’t, it is universal, it may be distributed differently in different cultures this spirit or whatever we call it but it is something in the meaning of being human. When life kicks us in the gonads it is time to fight back, not give in.

So the next time you go training train like hell, give your all because contrary to what you think you are not training to stand on that podium with a medal round your neck, if you are you are a sportsman or woman more than a martial artist, no criticism intended, respect due.I received this email from Nick Engelen in Belgium who I met through the British Combat Association, he trains with Geoff Thompson, he trains hard and describes last Saturdays session .

“After a lecture the warm-ups started with grappling. I had Louis, Geoff’s son and wanted to take the most out of that so gave 120%. Then we had to sprint up and down the gym. Being already tired this made me throw up in the bin inbetween laps. Then fighting again which gave me a bloody lip and a red coloured t-shirt which I hope I can get clean. After that punching on the pads 100% then groundwork. I was so exhausted that I had to run to the bin again as I wouldn’t make the toilet and I had splattered my body fluids already on the corridor. The session ended after that. So it was blood sweat and puke this time. Next months grading might involve the tears”

You have to admire the guy, That is what it takes to keep going in the face of all the pain. Personally I keep training to ensure I have enough in the tank not to go down if the brown stuff hits the fan, but if I do, trust me I am going to get back up and I will be coming for whoever put me down, trust me on this too, it will be time for them to run. So take a tip, train hard, make it as real as you can, enjoy the technical stuff as a challenge that stimulates the grey matter, but concentrate on hitting hard with real intent, work your body until it aches and then some and go again, that will create the mindset capable of dragging yourself up off the floor and going for glory if you have to. like this guy, you may have heard of him.