Category Archives: Coaching

Martial Arts and Disabilities

One of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of being a youth instructor is coaching disabled children. From kids with autism, to a double amputee, to children with traumatic brain disorders, I have been lucky enough to coach some amazing disabled children. Dealing with unruly children or disrespectful teenagers is definitely a challenge. It is more of a challenge than it is to coach children with disabilities. I have taught several children with what people consider to be a disability.

Some athletes with disabilities have accomplished some pretty amazing things.

If you don’t know who Anthony Robles is, you should. He was so good at wrestling that he became an NCAA champion, an amazing feat. This was with the fact that he is missing a leg. Yes, he has one leg. He became such a dominant force that coaches were even saying he had an unfair advantage because his strength was that of a wrestler in a higher weight class. Amazing young man. He isn’t on the scene anymore but Matt Hamill is a deaf American mixed martial artist and wrestler who has competed in the Light Heavyweight division of the UFC. He is a three-time NCAA Division III National Champion in wrestling while attending the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. Hamill also has a silver medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling and a gold medal in Freestyle Wrestling from the 2001 Summer Deaflympics, which is impressive also, but tells the story of how many deaf wrestlers must be out there and are very good at what they do. I’m sure these two don’t consider themselves to be disabled at all.

Another great example is Baxter Humby. Baxter Humby is a Canadian kickboxer known as “The One Armed Bandit” due to his missing right hand, which was amputated at birth just below his elbow after becoming entangled with the umbilical cord. He is the only man in the world to win world titles with only one hand. He competes against not-disabled fighters and I have seen him fight on several occasions. Baxter is the current IMTC World Super Welterweight Champion. He holds a number of different title belts including WBC Super Welterweight National Champion , IKKC USA Kickboxing Champion, IMTC World Middleweight Champion, and IKBA International Kickboxing Champion. His interest in sports led him to take up running at age 11 and martial arts at 17. He ran for the Canadian National Track Team in Barcelona in 1992 and in Berlin in 1994. So the man has accomplished many feats that people with all of their limbs will never come close to.

What an amazing person to not let something like a missing limb be an excuse for not doing the things he wants to do in life.

Coaching these types of athletes has proven to be something that I love. I find that people with disabilities in one area of their person, always make up for it with excellent strengths in other areas. A person who is blind is known to have better hearing than others. The other senses seem to be amplified when one is absent. This has been true about everyone I have had the privilege to coach that has a disability. I hope this goes to show those of us with no disabilities that if we were to have half the drive and determination of those who were told they couldn’t do something because of a disability; that we are only limited by our own minds. More power to all of those out there trying to do what they dream.

What Do You Call Your Martial Arts Teacher?

The question struck me as odd, but I suppose that you really need to know what you call your martial arts teacher. I have the kids call me coach, but it depends what martial art you are teaching. I don’t think anything is insulting, but here are some common teacher names for some common martial arts.

Japanese martial arts commonly use Sensei meaning “teacher” or literally translated, “born first” or “one who has gone before”.

A Sensei is a person who has knowledge and is willing to teach that knowledge to another.

Grandmaster (or Grand Master) and Master are titles used to describe or address some senior or experienced martial artists. Typically these titles are honorific in nature, meaning that they do not infer rank, but rather distinguish the individual as very highly revered in their school, system, or style. It is a badge of honor and respect that isn’t formal, but is a compliment.

Chinese Martial Arts like kung-fu usually call the teacher Sifu,, although the term and pronunciation are also used in other southern languages. In Mandarin Chinese, it is spelled “shifu”. Many martial arts studios pronounce the word like “she foo”. In Cantonese, it is said as “see foo” (almost like “sea food”, without the “d” on the end). The actual Korean word for a student’s master is suseung-nim. This term is only used by the student when speaking to the instructor. The student is hakseang. Many Korean titles are often mistakenly translated as “grandmaster”. The term is general term for any teacher of any subject as well as a respectful form of the word “you”. Coincidently, martial arts instructors (in Korea 4th Dan and above) are called Sabom-nim.

In the Muay Thai world, instructors are called Kru and Arjan. (also ajaan, ajarn, acharn, and achaan). These words do not by any means mean “Master.” Quite simply, they both mean “teacher.” They do not differ from society to the gym. Your english teacher or math teach would be referred to as Kru or Arjan. Although Ajarn is used for more experienced or respected teacher… it still translates the same as Kru. In the Muay Thai world, it is a tad disrespectful to call yourself a Kru or Arjan if you haven’t fought though. Although the term doesn’t mean that you are a fighter, it is commonly understood that the instructor was an actual fighter at some point.

The term that seems to have the most controversy is the name that BJJ practitioners call their instructor. Most of them just call them coach but others are referred to as Professors. I thought this to be a distinguished honor when I first heard it and it added some regal sense of mastery to anyone who was being called a Professor by their students. When I learned why, it was actually kind of underwhelming. The term is a literal translation from Portuguese (the national language of Brazil), that means simply: Teacher. So now you know what to call your instructors.

One Video That Sums Up Martial Arts


Jason Wilson is obviously a good instructor. Who is he? He is a martial artist who helped a 9-year-old make a breakthrough, physically and emotionally, when he failed to break a board with his left hand and began to cry. The video from this has gone viral and it shows the boy, Bruce Collins III struggling with the final moments of his initiation test. He has broken a wood board with his right hand, but several attempts to punch through another board with his left have failed. That’s when Wilson gets down on his knee to talk with Bruce at eye level. “I don’t mind you crying. I cry too,” Wilson says. He then tells Bruce “you’re pulling your blow,” perhaps from fear or uncertainty, and encourages the boy to push through the resistance.

“You can do it, you just have to put your mind to it.”~ Jason Wilson

“You can do it, you just have to put your mind to it.” Wilson says as he consoles while still encouraging Collins. That is what a real instructor has the blessing of knowing how to do. They can let someone know that it isn’t easy, but it is possible. The boy goes on to break the board in two. It’s a single board, but it’s symbolic of the hurdles Wilson’s young students will face as they grow up and become men, he told TODAY. “You have to have follow through when you’re facing a barrier in life. You may have a little resistance at the beginning, but go all the way through. Complete the task,” he said. “I wanted him to know, it’s OK to cry, but the key is knowing why you’re crying,” he said. “What that does for a young boy, regardless of his ethnic background, is say, ‘Now I can shake off this false masculinity I’ve been taught, that it’s not human to be this way.”Wilson said he knows too many young men who have been encouraged to choke back their emotions.

The video also includes an exchange with the boy’s father, who was asked to carry his son on his back after performing a series of push-ups. Wilson then slaps the man’s arms with a stick as he continues to hold up his son. He said the exchange is symbolic of the idea that, as a father, “you do not drop and fall, even when things get tough.” Wilson said he’s been encouraged by the response to the video, which takes place athis martial arts academy, where he teaches Musar Ru, or “Discipline of the Spirit.” The style is a combination of Aikijutsu, Brazilian jujitsu, combat boxing and other styles Wilson has studied. “This is an introspective training program. The goal is to create a generation of men who are consciously and spiritually strong enough to navigate through the pressures of this world without succumbing to their emotions,” he said. “We have an opportunity to spread hope and love and free a generation of boys who can finally be emotional. That’s powerful. Do you know the type of men they can grow up to be in society?”

Wilson is the perfect example of what an instructor should be.

Not all instructors deal with kids, and not all instructors that deal with kids do it well. It is a fine line between motivating and discouragement. Not only is Wilson good at encouragement, he made himself vulnerable to these kids. Kids can often see an instructor as a machine, while Wilson shows the students that he is very human with his emotions. Keep doing it right Jason, you’re one of the good ones. The rest of us parents, instructors, and student alike can also learn from this.

a link to the full video is here: https://youtu.be/Et8XcwP0Yjw

Positive Coaching?

I stumbled upon an article, through researching good leadership and coaching for Martial Arts that talked about Coach Gus Bradley. He is well known in the world of Football for being an upbeat, positive coach who rarely offers negative comments. To me, positive coaching is sort of a redundant term. Coaching is (supposed) to always be a positive thing, even if you are telling a student what they are doing wrong. There are coaches who are famous for their “in your face” coaching style. Mike Ditka was infamous for being a hard coach. His no nonsense approach to his Chicago Bears brought them a Super Bowl Championship and 1 game shy of a completely perfect season. As you watch youth athletes, it is almost always in the whispers that every great team has a demanding coach no matter what the sport. I suppose that we have to ask ourselves what is really important in the long run.

We do know from research across many performance domains that taking this type of positive approach has long-term benefits.~ Trent Petrie

Is winning the goal once you get to the pros? Is the positive coaching method of one coach going to ruin athletes for other coaches? Trent Petrie, director of The Center for Sports Psychology and Performance Excellence at the University of North Texas and he says “We do know from research across many performance domains that taking this type of positive approach has long-term benefits,” Petrie said. “The approach is focused on learning and growth. The ability to make mistakes, but learning from those mistakes. Focusing on long-term goals with positive feedback. All those things that are part of this climate that he’s creating and is one in which athletes can thrive.” So basically, the stress of being chewed out or punishment for not performing is removed from the equation. Is this a good thing?Since Gus Bradley has an NFL head coach record of 12-36, I don’t know if this approach is the best for winning results.

I would say that at a young age, kids need to be coached with a combination of positive feedback about progress they are making and honesty about where they can improve.

Being honest about the mistakes they are making is the part that some athletes and parents don’t want to hear.

There are several ways to describe it. It is often said that you learn everything from a loss and nothing from a win. I want to use Jordan Burroughs as an example. Jordan Burroughs has stated all of the tough coaching and sacrifices he had to endure to get where he is today. Jordan Burroughs is the reigning Olympic Champion Freestyle Wresting Champion at 74 kilos. He is considered, rightfully, to be the best wrestler in the world in any weight class.

I’m curious to hear what other people think about this subject. Obviously Gus Bradley doesn’t have championship success with his strategy, but he is well liked by his players and fellow coaches. What is the goal when coaching though? Some would say coaching youth would emphasize teaching skills like leadership, team work, and good sportsmanship. Others would say that teaching youth athletes should emphasize on getting better and becoming successful. A winning attitude does not come at the price of soft coaches and being friends with your players. That is the general consensus and an educated opinion that I share. Anyone who reads this blog can comment and let me know what your opinion is.