About Massimo Gaetani

Massimo is a professional coach certified by Results Coaching System. He works primarily with business owners and senior managers in organizations to boost their performance, set powerful goals about their business and careers and he supports them on their path to ensure successful outcomes. His clients to date are professionals, entrepreneurs, C role individuals and senior managers spanning a broad range of industries. Massimo supports his coaching qualifications with 15 years of management experience in small to large enterprises working in various senior positions in sales, marketing, IT and business consultancy. Find out more at www.profitdojo.com

Disambiguation About 5 Styles Called Kickboxing

For somebody who has been practicing kickboxing since before it was given this name I find somehow irritating when people confuse it or, worse, deliberately misuse its name for commercial reasons.  Most martial arts, despite attracting some time interesting numbers of keen followers, failed to attract the real interest of the masses in terms the education systems, TV coverage and commercial sponsorships.  The only exception, over the last decade or so is the growing popularity of MMA.

If we can thank Bruce Lee for creating a huge awareness and interest for martial arts thanks to his movies in the 60ies and 70ies we could thank Jean Claude Van Damme for helping Kickboxing becoming a main stream martial art and sport thanks to his movies of from the late 80ies and early 90ies.  So while if you are practicing Tang So Do or Wing Chun you still have to explain to people what you do when you tell people to be training Kickboxing most of them will have at least a clue of what you do.

For this reason many organizations are promoting their martial arts as Kickboxing even when they are practicing something else and they should really keep its original name.  I will list below the 5 martial arts to me known that are all confusingly called Kickboxing while just one of them should be it.

American Kickboxing

Original called Karate Contact to differentiate from the no-contact karate competitions that still take place nowadays.  This martial art was initially practiced as a form of freestyle karate that allowed contact during sparring and competitions; it then developed into adding more appropriate boxing punches and combinations of kicks and punches.  Targets for all punches and kicks are the front part of the body and face, no low kicks are allowed.  American Kickboxing is practiced with full protection kit, boxing gloves, mouth guard, groin guard, sheen pads and foot pads. The uniform usually includes a t-shirt or jacket and long trousers.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, also called Thai Boxing or Thai Kickboxing is a form of sport fight originated in Thailand and it allows one of the most complete and harsh fighting scenario for a sport bout.  Muay Thai allows punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes to all parts of the body.  While training is usually performed while wearing a reasonable level of kit such as gloves, mouth guard, groin guard and sheen pads, fights are performed without any leg protection.

Japanese Kickboxing

The origins of Japanese Kickboxing are rooted in Muay Thai. It all started in th 60ies when a Japanese Karate master, after seeing a Muay Thai fight decided, to adopt a similar style fight full contact sparring.  Japanese Kickboxing has now evolved into K1 a world popular fighting sport that looks similar to Thai boxing, excluding elbow strikes; that means it allows punches, kicks and knee strikes to all parts of the body, excluding groin.   K1 has regular followers and practitioners in Japan, Europe and USA with TV coverage and large sponsorships. Typical uniform for Japanese Kickboxing is just shorts and perhaps a vest.


Also called French Boxing (or Boxe Française) is a French version of fighting sport with a number of differences compared to the rest of similar martial arts. In Savate both punches and kicks are allowed but they limit the target for the formers to the front of body, above the belt and face, e.g. similar to IBA boxing; quite confusingly kicks are instead allowed to hit the whole body, including back and legs.  The uniform used for Savate is also very typical as it’s a Lycra fabric full body suit and they wear boots instead of foot pads.

Sanda or Sanshou

Sanda, also called Chinese Kickboxing, was originally developed by the Chinese military based upon the intense study and practices of traditional Kung Fu and modern combat fighting techniques; it is a full contact form or Kickboxing usually practiced as a fighting application of various kung fu styles like Shaolin or Wu Shu.  Its freestyle philosophy embraces a sport fight with little rules, where kicks and punches to any area of the body (excluding groin) are allowed; throws are also possible but the fight gets stopped as soon as the fighters hit the ground (e.g. no grappling and submission).

So in my opinion just American and Japanese Kickboxing have the legitimate right to be called Kickboxing while the remaining three are getting free publicity by the big popularity that the name Kickboxing has gained over the last 20 years or so.  This list is the most accurate to the best of my knowledge; it relies on my over 30 years experience in martial arts and research I did online, both on Wikipedia and other sources.  If you have any suggestions for amendments please leave a comment.

What Experience Gives You

Recently I was running a lesson with the Cambridge University Kickboxing Society and I was pointing out to two beginners young ladies how one was not hitting has hard as she could while performing a simple exercise.

Her partner was surprised of my remark and she stopped asking how I could tell she was not hitting “as hard as she could”.  Surprisingly that was the first time somebody questioned my teaching in this way and I pondered for a few seconds before answering.

Many years of experience allow you to recognise and evaluate very quickly, within matter of seconds while a person is practicing martial arts, whether the he/she:

  • Is Powerful
  • Is Fast
  • Is Well co-ordinated
  • Has good reflexes
  • Can bear strong attacks
  • Has a good sense of fighting
  • Her body mass and shape allows a certain level of power

As I listed to her the above, non exhaustive, list of features and mentioned my experience in years that exceeds by a decade her age she quickly accepted my comment and carried on training.

Many instructors like to feel powerful and imposing their dogmatic teaching to their students expecting them to simply trust and believe him/her.  As my teaching is fully based on scientific principles everything can be explained and showed how techniques can be improved and fined tuned to deliver maximum efficiency and power.

So I quickly helped her partner to adjust her posture and angle of attack and within a couple of exercises she was hitting 20-30% harder.  Physical fitness can be and will be improved by continuous training  while the right technique will improve your performance in a very short time.

That’s what experience gives you.

How Strongly Do You Wish to Succeed in Martial Arts?

When you see a person who is active and among the top performers within your school or club have you ever asked your self what took that person to be where he/ she is now?  We surely cannot assume that anybody was born capable of punching, kicking or performing any other martial art move in a seamlessly fashion: these are acquired, learnt skills.

I tend to think that many qualities all have an input to the final performance of a martial artist but I am willing to develop and discuss in this post the top ones:

  • Talent
  • Physical fitness that can be split essentially in:
    • Agility
    • Strength
    • Speed
    • Flexibility
    • Coordination
  • Observation skills
  • Mental flexibility
  • Wish to succeed

Let me now see these and briefly expand on them:


I define somebody talented when she walks into the training room for the first time and she naturally performs anything shown in a relatively easy and natural way.  Talent can be natural or built on previous experiences, non necessarily in martial arts: e.g. dancers and gymnast can naturally perform many martial arts moves.  Talent opens up doors and a number of possibilities to the performer.  Doing things is easy for her so she tend to quickly get to a decent level and often moving on to the next challenge without seeking excellence in its current shape or form.  While I am not stating that talented people do not stick around, in my experience they get easily bored and need continuous new challenges.  I have seen a relatively high number of talented people to get to some level of proficiency in martial arts but a much greater number dropping off within a few years.

Physical fitness

Regardless the martial art you practice there will be some physical fitness involved and being fit or developing a certain level of fitness will help your performance.  In my experience most people will develop over time the level of fitness for their required or expected performance, regardless of their initial fitness level (exceptions do apply).  This is to say that people naturally or initially fit will have an edge or a small advantage over the less fit ones but this will not affect most people in the long run.

Observation skills

I define observation skills when somebody can see a technique performed by another person and she can quickly understand and replicate it without need of deep explanation of the single movements involved.  I consider observation skills a great tool for the martial artist to improve her own performance and gradually absorb other people skills without constant assistance of an instructor or coach.  In my experience the person good in observation skills will be careful in how different people perform the same technique and find her own way to master it.

Mental flexibility

I define mental flexibility the skill of being adaptable in your approach to learn and perform a technique or a combination.  In general there are physical, mechanical and safety rules about performing techniques but often there isn’t a right or wrong about using that or the other technique.  While physical flexibility can be a great skill for certain martial arts, mental flexibility is great for all of them because it allows adapting to what works and what doesn’t.

Wish to succeed

A person with a strong wish to succeed will fuel her enthusiasm to perform.  The wish to succeed will ensure this person will:

  • train regularly and often: this will have the most immediate effect of increasing the number of hours of training per month or year; her mind will get more and more involved with the training becoming a second nature.  Let’s try to remember that the mind and the subconscious are what we mostly train when learning and performing a martial art: muscles and bones simply move in the direction and with the speed and intensity that the mind dictates.  The secondary effect of this is that instructors and senior students will see this person around more than others and default to her more and more of their attention.  This will help this person to get slightly better than other and keep an advantage over other, less committed people.
  • train with the most challenging people in the room trying to be as good or better then them
  • Participate to seminars and other external activities organized by her school or club – visit events organized by others

I will conclude this post by simply stating the following: at whatever point your martial training started or will start your wish to succeed will be the most valuable component and likely the quality that will be pivotal in your success in martial arts.  Other qualities, even the ones I did not mention here will all matter but just as long as your wish to succeed is there.

Hook Kick: 5 Good Reasons to Hit with the Ball of the Foot

Different schools and styles of martial arts teach the hook kick (also called reversed round kick) in different ways. Main differences manifest essentially in the way the movement originates, how the kicking leg is moving during the kick and what part of the foot hits the target that can be the hill or the sole/ball of the foot.

When I teach how to perform a hook kick, I first clarify that to maximise performance the leg should follow a whipping movement to ensure maximum acceleration of the foot toward the target.

I also suggest to always hit with the ball of the foot. Here are for 3 good reasons both physiological and in terms of pure performance for doing that rather than the (side of the) hill, keeping the foot at 90° to the ankle:

  1. better reach: having the foot extended it increases your range by nearly the full length of your foot ensuring you will hit, from the same position, targets that would not be reachable if you bend your foot.
  2. stronger impact: if the angular speed of the leg moving is constant having a longer weapon (by the length of the foot) increases the speed of the foot itself, build up a higher momentum and delivers a stronger kick..
  3. safer for you: the Achilles’ tendon is a weak point and if you squash it against a skull it will hurt your foot to the point you might not be able of walking for some time. Even if the impact is not straight on the Achilles’ tendon it can still hit the many nerves that are exposed both on the internal and external part of the hill, moving toward the ankle. The ball of the foot is very well padded and can bear much stronger impact than the edge of the hill.
  4. improve flexibility: with the full fully extended the natual flexibility of the leg is highly helped; to the contrary trying to extend a leg while the tibial (shin) muscles are tensed in order to keep the ankle at 90° will have some groups of muscles that are fighting against the direction of your kick getting the muscles behind the leg less prone to extend
  5. faster: if all muscles involved in the movement are pushing in the same direction and the others are simply relaxed the overall speed will be improved.

In terms of pure power the hook kick is not to be considered at the top of the scale where round kick and other forward kicks can develop much stronger impact. Things change when spinning backward where the whole spinning momentum adds up to the actual mechanical movement of the kick itself.

Picture: Curtesy and Copyright @ Duncan Grisby 2006

The Importance of Speed in Martial Arts

In order to be a good martial artist you must aim at excelling in a number of different skills and having at the same time:

  • Strength
  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Speed

The last but definitely not least one in the list, speed, is to be considered of extreme importance because it affects most of your performance when practicing any martial art and the techniques you are performing in a combat situation. Certain applications of internal martial arts that are practiced for healing, meditation and relaxation purposes are usually performed really slowly and obviously have not connection with the content of this post.

Speed affects the kinetic energy you produce by a quadratic factor: if you double your speed the kinetic energy grows by 4.  Therefore if you are interested in increasing the damage produced by your punches or kicks you should train for increased speed.  Higher speed can come from higher physical fitness by also by learning how to best coordinating all muscles involved in a technique so they all push with precise timing in a well coordinated direction.

By increasing your speed you are not only ensuring that you can hit your target faster and producing more damage; the technique arrives to its destination in a shorter time therefore it’s ready to go back to its original position much faster, making it ready for the next strike.

Being able to perform a technique or combination at a high speed will allow you to surprise even a very well prepared and skilled opponent.  If you could move one arm or leg 10 or 20 times faster that the average martial artist you would not need very complicated combinations and attacking from many different angles; you could just attack your opponent with that single strike and score, every time.

Training for speed should be a mental as well as physical exercise; muscles are trained to become stronger and therefore release more power but, at the same time, speed should be thought as the main goal when training for it.  For instance keeping your muscles relaxed while training and program yourself to tense just the right ones that are involved in a specific movement will offer maximum efficiency for the muscles involved and minimum dissipation of energy in unnecessary movements.

A training scheme I suggest when coaching somebody with the intent of improving their speed is usually represented by the following list of activities:

  • Relax physically and mentally
  • Think and see the movement you are about to perform
  • Concentrate just on the muscles strictly involved in the movement
  • Consciously relax the remain part of the body
  • Try to tense the muscles in the most explosive movement you can possibly imagine
  • Repeat a few times until it becomes second nature

I am a big fan of speed and, while it can be a function of your fitness, speed can be trained and deliver amazing results.  When can you start?

The Dilemma Between Technique and Toughness in Fighting Sports

We define combat sport a sport application or expression of a martial art where we set and impose rules to limit and control the amount of damage that can be inflicted to the opponent.

Ranging from contactless Karate tournament, via Boxing and all the way to MMA fighting sports usually assign points to each technique that scores and in many cases contemplate the eventuality of one of the opponent being knocked out (KO) or giving up the fight before the end and accepting defeat.

I am a strong fan of good technique and properly applied guard at all times: high quality technique will be more efficient in terms of using your energy as well as minimising your change of running out of it.  The guard will ensure you won’t be hit as often or as hard, reducing the chances for a KO from your opponent as well as minimising the points scored on you.  Most people I am teaching to are buying into this concept and accept that good technique must be there as a foundation to build on the remaining attributes of a winner.  A minority of others, being naturally aggressive and perhaps with a higher pain threshold, they assume they can just get in the ring let the opponent coming forward and aiming at knocking them down before the end of the fight.

From my point of view this is a strategy that is meant to be short lived and not guaranteeing a long career for a winner.  Here are my reasons for it:

  • Knocking somebody down, in a fight where both opponent are well trained and fit sports fighter is a small chance of hitting the right spot at the right time: it doesn’t happen often, particularly if your opponent has proper technique and guard;
  • Regardless how tough you are is just going to be time before you meet somebody tougher, somebody who has higher pain threshold, more adrenaline in their body and don’t go down as you expect;
  • If you are just aiming at the KO strike without a point based strategy two things can happen: you don’t succeed at your KO and the opponent wins because scoring more points or you become victim of your own strategy and get hit hard where it really hurts and get knocked down yourself;
  • Repeated hard strikes in the head cause long term disabilities and injuries so even if it doesn’t hurt now it will cause problems later.

Muhammad Ali was the first boxer that demonstrated that a fight could be won by playing by the rules, not looking for a fast KO but keep scoring on the opponent throughout the fight.  That doesn’t mean being a lower quality fighter but simply someone who is there to win, repeatedly, aiming at the top title.  Another demonstration of what I am stating here was the recent boxing fight of David Haye v Nikolai Valuev: the quality of the show was somehow not there as it can be seen in these videos.  Haye kept moving backward and away from his massive opponent Valuev but as he kept scoring with many, many points at the body, he won the world title.  That was a very well managed fight played strategically from beginning to end with the victory in mind.

I would like to conclude with a simple clarification: good technique is not just meant to look good, it’s meant to be very powerful, fast efficient and effective for the person using it.  At the same time when training for sport fighting you should always bear in mind what the rules are and understanding how you can win by scoring more points.  If the KO is allowed in your discipline and you can finish the fight before it may be a bonus but a good fighter is more likely to win more often than a tough one.

Tao of Jeet Kune Do

I have been toying with the idea of writing book reviews for a long time.  Have an extensive library of martial arts and Eastern philosophy books that cover a broad range of subjects.  I hope that what I am going to write about each of them will be enough to inspire some readers to read them, as well as writing some comments about what they think.

When reading a martial art book it is important to have a clear idea of what the main goal for the reading the book is: in my case I never intended to learn a martial art or a style but more to understand the main concepts and philosophy behind it.

The book

Many of us consider Bruce Lee a legend that left a great legacy and inspired entire generations to start and keep training martial arts.  For me this is a precious book that I keep handy and go back to read on a regular basis.  It is obviously not a novel with a story but more a collection of notes and ideas: small paragraphs and some time single sentenced that describe a strong and deep concept and make you think for a long time.  Although the cover sheet states “Tao of Jeet Kune Do – by Bruce Lee” the book was put together by Gilbert L. Johnson and Linda Lee (Bruce Lee’s widow) based on Lee’s original notes.


I see this book as a journal for Bruce Lee himself when he was thinking and refining the concepts behind JKD and how he felt this should have developed.  Tao has a strong meaning and multiple interpretations: it is written in Chinese with the same character that is used to write Do in Japanese and it has the same meaning: The Way.  This is to describe an approach that is not meant to teach a strict methodology to do this or that.

Each chapter describes a different aspect of the concepts behind JKD: Preliminaries,Qualities, Tools, Preparations, Mobility, Attack, Circle with Circumference and it’s just a name. In some parts of the book entire pages are full of hand written notes from Lee himself, in other cases there are drawing that are probably copied by other books at the time: I say this because the drawing style is consistent for some of the simple stylized pictures where an entire person or a limb is represented with a few lines.

JKD maintains and improves many aspects of Wing Chun that is the first martial art that Lee ever practiced when he was still in Hong Kong.  Bruce Lee probably wanted to improve what he considered the weak aspects of Wing Chun but, instead of simply adding the missing techniques, he saw an opportunity for a much greater picture, not limited by traditions, cultures, styles or country boundaries.  He wanted to define a new concept that many different people, with different backgrounds, could embrace and grow with it.

What I like of this book

Apart from the definitions of this and that technique Lee explores numerous details of the mental aspect of training: what you should think, the attitude you should have and how each of these should be prepared.  While he was against rehearsed techniques and combinations because fighting should spark naturally, from the martial artist experience and based on the opponents moves, he covers in details how each aspect of training should be practiced.  Considering that disciplines like coaching and motivation, the knowledge of sport science and sport psychology were hardly available at the time Lee was surely a great precursor of these concepts.  I also find fascinating the amount of wisdom contained in this book, considering that Lee was in his late twenties when he wrote most of the notes.


I would suggest reading this book to anybody that is interested in martial arts, from beginners to top ranked black belts.  Don’t expect to learn JKD by reading it but be prepared to a bit of thinking because each chapter will add some wisdom to your knowledge of martial arts.

If you are interesting in buying this book, or other interesting ones, please have a look at our book store that contain a little collection of the books I read so far.

Powerful Strikes: My Top 5 Martial Arts Punches

Martial artists and sport fighters with some level of experience are aware that some punches or kicks are stronger than others; some people just accept that as a fact, some of us try to understand the reasons behind by studying the human anatomy, how the body works and how biomechanics actually apply to these techniques.

If the first step in this process will help you understand why things work in a certain way the natural evolution from there will be to better train the muscles involved in the movement and improve your performance.

Although different people will achieve different results when striking with various punches I will list below my 5 top favourite martial arts punches (e.g. not limiting ourselves to IBA boxing strikes):

The Jab

I think of the jab as an amazing technique; when well trained it can be super fast, ideal to strike the opponent at both medium (abdomen, chest) and high level (face).  In boxing (as much as in kickboxing) the Jab is very much the bread and butter of the fight, mostly used to strike often the opponent in order to check and maintain the distance and as a preparation for other more powerful, but often slower and more energy demanding, techniques.  The Jab should always travel on a straight line, directly from your guard toward its target and then being withdrawn immediately to go back ready for the next strike.  The total number of muscles involved in the jab is relatively small: mostly the triceps, with small contribution from deltoid, pectoral and trapezium.  Extra power can be added with a well timed little step forward while some people add an extra torsion on their core to involve a few more muscles; I generally don’t as I find it time consuming and less easy to follow up.

The Hook

It is the most powerful punch I can throw, with either hand or from either stance, reason being the high number of strong muscle groups involved in the motion: the bicep, the deltoid, pectoral, some of the abdominals, good part of the core and, if well performed, the calf, quadriceps and the hip area. Although all hooks hits the target sideways in a circular motion, from a mechanical and geometrical point of view the hook performed with the leading (front) hand is totally different from the hook performed with the rear (back) hand.  In the first case the only way of delivering power is to perform a counter turn that while shifting weight on the rear leg builds up momentum to be transferred to the arm and the fist.  When striking with the rear leg it’s important to push from the rear leg, starting from the ball of the rear foot, twisting the hips forward in synch with the arm moving forward in the strike.

The Cross

The Cross shares the simplicity offered by a straight trajectory similarly to the jab, but it develops more power for two main reasons: it travels for a long distance therefore it builds up more momentum, delivering more damage; it involves, on top of all muscles involved in the jab, the hip torsion (core, gluteus) and the push from the rear leg as previously described in the hook from the rear hand. Adding a little step even if moving just a few millimetres it can help to add a substantial amount of extra power.

The Back Fist

The Back Fist punch (as in the picture above) is a typical martial arts punch that derives from traditional styles like karate and kung fu; it was never part of the IBA boxing repertoire but, funny enough in the UK it is being progressively removed from various light and full contact kickboxing rules.  The Back Fist is not a particularly powerful punch as it involves just triceps and the shoulder muscles; at the same it is very fast and annoying because it hits people on the side of the face or some times on the nose.  Very popular in semi contact kickboxing it’s an ideal technique to be used while fighting in side stance and combined with side, round and hook kicks with the front leg.

The Spinning Back Fist

The Back Fist is the only punch that makes sense when performed while spinning back; while maintaining the limitations of being by its own nature a weak punch the spinning movement, if well performed and timed, can deliver an unexpected amount of power.  The spinning should always being performed in a way that the eyes (e.g. your vision) hit the target before the punch, in short, look at what you are striking.  The Spinning Back Fist was acceptable within kickboxing rules until a few years ago but it’s now been abolished in every style for its apparent lack of control and the amount of damage it can deliver when properly performed.

My Thoughts About Judo

Judo was the first martial art I have ever practiced and, even after many years, I have good memories of the experience and I can still use good part of what I have learnt at the time.


Judo is essentially a martial art based on throwing techniques: the intent, when two people start fighting, is to drop somehow the opponent and then follow up with grappling.  Grappling means wrestling on the floor using various techniques to immobilize the opponent (keeping both shoulders on the floor for at least 10 seconds), to strangle her or to apply joint locks, specifically elbows: once one of the fighters is caught in one of these situations she will have to give up by tapping with one hand the floor or the opponent body to avoid real damage.


Judo is a Japanese martial art that was defined by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century as a fair, sport orientated, derivative of Ju Jitsu.  Most ancient martial arts were invented and practiced for situations when loosing a fight meant being seriously injured or killed.  Ju Jitsu is a martial art with over 500 years of history that was taught to samurais, useful to fight bare handed in a broad range of situations with the intent of surviving life threatening attacks.  Many applications of Ju Jitsu are meant to seriously arm or kill the opponent and this obviously doesn’t apply very well in a competitive sport.  Judo was the first martial art to be an Olympic sport and it gained  at some point great popularity in the US and Europe as long as it was one of the few martial arts broadly available.

What I like about Judo

Judo teaches and greatly improves awareness about balance and how to cause an opponent to loose it: it works well if and when an attacker grabs you by the lapel or any part of your clothing.  It is also ideal when somebody pushes you aggressively: with a simple movement or a little sweeping technique you can simple drop the attacker on the floor and, if she has no experience in martial arts, she won’t know how it happened.  In a typical Japanese fashion Judo classes are highly structured, instilling good discipline and great respect for the opponent.  Although much of its training is very physical it is reasonably safe and a great work out of for most parts of the body.  Given the relatively gentle approach that can be applied to its teaching, Judo can be taught to young children both male and female: it could be a great starting point for children interested in martial art and for parents that support the idea.

What I don’t like about Judo

I find Judo inadequate for self defence purposes because of its basic structure.  Although its aim is to redirect the opponent’s force and use it to your advantage I found it not as applicable as it sounds.  I met many people, with senior ranks in Judo, that had the opportunity of testing this on their on skin, with dear consequences. It is known that Judo’s curriculum includes, for top ranked practitioners, strikes similar to the ones used by Karate or other striking styles.  Nonetheless I never encountered or heard of anybody practicing these techniques.  That means that all training relies on the opponent grabbing you with the intention of applying a Judo technique.  This is pretty much useless if somebody, as it can happen in many cases in the street, attacks you with a strike of some kind, either a punch or a kick.  The other bad habit instilled by Judo is relying on an opponent wearing a Gi (typical jacket and trousers made out of thick cotton fabric) that has broad and strong sleeves and a belt: if you face an opponent wearing t-shirt and shorts you’ll find that good part of the common techniques of this style do not work because you cannot grab your opponent in a way that allows you to apply the technique itself.  Although in terms of safety Judo training is reasonably safe I know of many joint and shoulder injuries caused by excessively zealous joint locks or wrong fall breaks.


I am convinced that some of the basics of Judo are very useful concepts to be aware of: at the same I would not rely on this martial art for self defence because of its intrinsic limitations.  I therefore would not suggest considering Judo as a unique martial art to be learnt.

In any case I firmly believe that a decent or good knowledge of two or three martial arts is fundamental to have a reasonable understanding of how the same thing can be done differently.

Differences Between Kickboxing and Thai Boxing

Many people, too many people, confuse Kickboxing with Thai Boxing (also called Muai Thai). Perhaps it is because of the generalisation that many schools do in defining any fighting sport that uses upper and lower body strikes (e.g. punches and kicks) as Kickboxing.  I used the term fighting sport to indicate a martial art that gets practiced according to some sporting rules: these rules define, among other things, what can be used as a striking weapon and what areas of the opponent’s body can be hit.

Thai Boxing

In general, the correct definition for Kickboxing is what is also called American Kickboxing, the style initially defined in the late sixties/ early seventies as Full Contact Karate.  The pioneers of this sport where people like Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis and Benny Urquidez: they eventually renamed it Kickboxing to indicate a boxing fight with added kicks. In traditional Karate people and arestill fighting with little or no contact.  Several other styles also some people call Kickboxing while obviously being something else. Thai Boxing is a typical example but Savate, a French style with some obvious differences, people call Kickboxing and even Sanda, a sport application of Kung Fu is sometimes called Chinese Kickboxing.

Although there are some very obvious differences between Kickboxing and Thai Boxing I will try to make them very obvious for the beginner:

  • Kickboxing is American and Thai Boxing is Thai… not that easy to spot by the untrained observer but the most obvious aspect of this difference is in the uniform that is generally adopted although there are exceptions.  The former uses (and imposes during tournaments) long trousers while the latter uses broad silk shorts, usually in very bright colours.
  • Kickboxing uses the same range of punches from standard IBF Boxing plus back fist and knife hand strike together with all most obvious kicks: front, side, round, axe and so on, including all variations of jumping and spinning back.  Thai Boxing allows all of the above and adds elbow and knee strikes: in reality knees are considered a kind of preferential weapon and they tend to deliver a high percentage of the most devastating blows.
  • In Kickboxing you cannot grab and hold any of the opponents limbs or body parts. Thai Boxing allows for example grabbing the opponent’s leg and hold onto it while striking at the rest of the body; it is also allowed to clinch and strike at the same time.
  • Kickboxing’s techniques can land on the opponent’s torso, face and head: no strikes are allowed to the legs, back or back of the head.  Thai Boxing can strike everywhere excluding the groin area.
  • Kickboxing is practiced wearing full protection kit made of gloves, mouth guard, groin guard, shin and foot pad: Thai Boxing fighters wear just gloves, mouth and groin guard.
  • Kickboxing’s competitions can follow semi, light or full contact rules. Thai Boxing just applies to full contact.

Because video are better than words, now that a bit of explanation has been offered, please have a look at these two examples I found.  The first is a friendly demonstration fight between Bill Wallace and Dominique Valera. Note the variety of techniques and how spectacular they look.  If they were in a competition they would have been less spectacular and much more violent:

The second video shows a Thai Boxing fight.  Although the number of techniques available to Thai Boxing fighters is larger than most of the other fighting sports the actual number of techniques effectively used is generally smaller:

I hope you enjoyed this post and the video I selected as examples. Any comment are as usual highly appreciated.

Image reproduced from http://www.thesandsphuket.com

Contact Training for Self Defence

This post is discussing the importance of contact training in martial arts, particularly in view of their effectiveness in self defence situations.

Once I welcomed a new student in my club: he stated to be nearly at Dan level in his club back home.  He practiced a style of Korean martial art, derived from Tae Know Do and purely orientated to self defence. While he felt confident training with anybody he showed immediately to be struggling when people at intermediate level started attacking him with proper combinations of punches and kicks.  His techniques and fitness preparation is good and his main limitation is the lack of practice with aggressive attackers swinging punches at him.  Without speculating on his abilities or however diminishing them I feel that if faced by somebody with really bad intentions his style and preparation might have let him down.

I have met and heard many people that sell their style as self defence and justify the lack of contact in their training stating that “our techniques are too dangerous to be applied for real”: fact is if you never practice a technique for real it will not work when you have to use it.

Do you know any boxer?  Have you ever heard of a boxer being beaten up in the street? Boxing is considered pretty basic and very physical but most purists of martial arts and the repertoire of techniques it offers is limited to 4 punches.  At the same time each techniques is pushed to its perfection and strong attention is paid to fitness and preparation therefore a boxer will hit hard and precisely to the point, finishing off a fight in a very short time.  Boxing is by definition a contact sport, full contact, and there isn’t such a thing as a soft boxing fight.

The main purpose of contact training, whatever limitations are imposed by the rules observed, is to have a fight that resembles a realistic situation, not dissimilar to what you would find on the street.  A self defence situation would surely have no rules, being everything but fair: if you have experience in sparring with a realistic level of contact it likely you are going to get out of there pretty well.

One of the most important aspects of fighting is in the mind: your mind will respond to a very basic stimulus, fight or flight, which goes back to when our ancestors were encountering fierce animals.  Faced with a danger the subconscious has to take a split second decision: shall I run (best form of self defence) or stay and fight?  In any case adrenaline will be released and you will be more alerted, either with improved running performance or ready for the fight.  Heart beat will increase and however fit you might be you might feel short of breath after an effort that usually would not affect you at all.

Contact training, however performed in a controlled environment helps reducing the stress induced by adrenaline rush.  If you are sparring regularly and therefore are often faced with individuals that have the only intention to punch you, kick you or whatever else, your mind will be get used to it and respond in a more rational and controlled way.

The Paradox of Hidden Simplicity

If you look around you, if you think about the world surrounding us simplicity is where everything starts and ultimately where the main goal for most is: this is described very well in John Maeda’s “The Laws of Simplicity” that I encourage you all to read.

We have today devices that somehow make our life simpler: think for example at a GPS satellite navigator.  At first sight a small box with a colour screen where you tap your destination in and it guides you precisely where to go.  That is amazing and it could have been science fiction until a few decades ago.  It is now an easily accessible toy, affordable to most in our so called civilized world.  If we look at other technologies we have similar examples everywhere.  Any computer using a standard GUI (Graphic User Interface, like MS-Windows , Mac-OS or KDI on Linux) allows a user to do very complex task by simply moving, dragging objects and so on, such as playing Texas Hold Em Poker Online or making intricate graphs: these GUI allowed masses of users to approach computers when, until 20 years or so ago they were domain of a much fewer experts.

In both the above cases the apparent simplicity gained have required thousands of man year of work and development to achieve what looks like a simple operation.  Think about the network of satellites that have been put in orbit to allow precise tracking of object on the Earth’s surface or the hundreds of Mb of data and programs necessary to run a basic computer today while we were talking in Kb twenty years ago.

Now I know some of you are asking: “what is this all about? This is a martial arts blog!”.  Well yes I know and I was initially inspired about this issue while I was watching, some time ago, a short video showing a master performing a form of Tai Chi Chuan.  It looked all so smooth, simple and effortless until I tried just to replicate a few moves when I felt clumsy and useless.  Similar feeling was inspired when I began learning tried Wing Chun years ago.  The basic concepts of all applications are aiming at simplicity: when I tried to apply the correct alignment of limbs and body it seemed everything but simple.  This suggested me this idea of the hidden simplicity and its paradox.

Things tend to evolve to from a rough, simple and primitive beginning into more and more complex entities: this applies to life forms and much as to machinery created by man and, topic of this blog, martial arts.

Martial arts all have a simple moves, the so called basics.  These are essential to learn how to properly stand, move around, apply the correct force to techniques and how to counter them when subject to an attack.  In most cases evolution, preference of the inventor and requirements of facing other styles have many pushed martial arts toward different levels of complexity. Often evolution can be dictated by the need of training the whole body to work as an efficient weapon and being able to face a broad variety of situations.

Once you achieve true mastery of one style you start realizing that at the real top simplicity is essential but what looks simple when performed by a real expert it is in reality the evolution and improvement of techniques that just at their perfection  look simple.  That’s what I call the Paradox of Hidden Simplicity.

Bruce Lee used to say that the very essence of Jeet Kune Do is not to add to the style but to throw away everything that is not essential and simplify as much as possible your personal set of techniques.  Simple is easy and more immediate.  More immediate will require less or no thinking (and therefore time wasting) to be used.  It will simplywork and apply to a number of situations.  I agree with good part of it but I still believe that to achieve simplicity you need first to train complexity and feel at ease with it and then work toward your own simplicity.

I see two flaws in the absolute application of that principle therefore I state that:

  • Training “controlled” complexity will create more brain connection and help to be at ease with a much broader number of situations that otherwise might be overwhelming.  This practice will also help training the whole body and muscle groups, keeping them all fit and ready for action.
  • Simple might mean “train just a single punch” and make it work perfectly: this is proven to be not ideal because you might get in a situation when it cannot work, for example if you injure your hand or arm.

So my conclusion is to aim at simplicity as much as you can but incorporate complexity in your routine: the aim is simplicity, achieved from simplifying complexity, once you have fully achieved it.

At that point you will also be in a situation where what you do looks simple but novices will find it difficult and complicated, confirming the paradox of hidden simplicity.

Martial Arts and the Subconscious

Have you ever heard expressions like:

  • Practicing martial arts without thinking?
  • Going with the instinct?
  • Thinking is too slow in a fighting situation?

The main purpose of learning complicated moves and combinations during most martial arts practice brings two main advantages:

  • improving the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints involved in that move
  • building connections in our mind to assimilate the move, storing it at subconscious level where most of our natural and instinctive actions are performed;

In the Western world many of us might have grown up playing some kind of ball sports and the action of catching or kicking a ball is natural for many of us. When somebody throws a ball at you and a natural instinct can be to catch it if it’s aimed at you upper body or to kick it if the ball is aimed at your legs. Other actions we do naturally are breathing, walking, running or perhaps driving: these usually require minimum conscious involvement, by this I mean that you don’t need to consciously think in order to walk and you can do it while talking, listening to music and so on. Sometimes you might require involving conscious thought if you are walking in a dangerous area or on unfamiliar terrain.

If you have never practiced martial arts and somebody throws a punch toward your face the instinctive response could be to over reacting or covering your head with both hands in a defensive position. Months or years of martial training will improve the reaction to same attack, depending on the martial art you practice. Different styles will suggest a variety of defences against the same attack (punch to the face in this case). The most important achievement will be to have an instinctive reaction where no conscious decision must be taken and when your subconscious mind takes over and deal with the attack in a simple and efficient way.

The latest neuroscience discoveries confirm that some of the principles that the ancient masters have been teaching for centuries have strong scientific backup. When you learn a new thing, being that a pure theoretical exercise like calculating mathematical formula or a physical operation such as swinging a golf club, you are creating connections in your brain that initially will require conscious thinking. If you keep repeating the same action over time you assimilate it, store in the subconscious. Our brain literally thrives on subconscious actions and whenever possible it tries to store things we are learning in our subconscious: from there it can be used and retrieved in a much faster, direct and more efficient way than when it requires conscious action.

Knife Defense

Whenever you a guy fighting in a movie one or more attackers armed with knives don’t believe what you are seeing: most of the times it is unrealistic. I have seen lots of knife defences that simply won’t work when, in the street, a random guy (or girl) pulls out a knife and tries stabbing your guts or slashing your throat. I am sorry to say but too many teachers out there give to their students a false illusion about how easy it might be to disarm an attacker carrying knife with bad intentions toward you.

At the same time there are a few styles that seem more realistic about how to deal with armed attackers. In fact I am inclined to follow the logic that a fighting style should train you to defend against weapons to start with, like most styles from Indonesia and the Philippines, and move toward bare handed fighting at a later stage (e.g. when you loose your weapon you should/ must carry on fighting).

I am personally terrified of edged weapons because of my relatively short experience and lack of continuous practice. Although I probably have the knowledge and skill to fight and defeat a random attacker from the street in a life or death situation I am always hoping that day will never come.  I have been following Maul Mornie for some time and he never fails to impress me with his very logical, essential and wise defence techniques.  Please have a look at this video and let me have your comments:

Image reproduced from www.samuraikaratecornwall.co.uk

An Encounter That Made Me Think

The other day I bumped into MT, a former student of mine.  He joined my club years ago and trained with us for at least a couple of years.  MT is a guy in his late thirties, over 6 foot tall and well over 200 pounds of weight.  When he arrived he had a reasonable experience in Muai Thai (also called Thai boxing).  While he was not very fast and agile he could strike very powerfully and fight proficiently, being used and conditioned to be hit at full power.  I always like him as he was respectful and diligent; he was continuously trying to capitalize on each single advice I gave him while we were training.  Frankly, while he is a lovely and very positive person, he is not the kind of guy you would like to fight in the street.  When he stopped training with our club the reasons were two fold: he was struggling financially to cope with our monthly fee and his family committments were getting more and more demanding: his partner had a little girl soon after.  I met him a couple of years ago and he told me that he joined a traditional Japanese martial arts club in Cambridge and he was enjoining good part of the training he did and the new techniques he was learning.

When I saw him the other day I remembered his club and I was curious to ask him a few questions about it.  Over a recent Christmas party I met a woman that has been training at the same club for a few years: on one hand she looked hopeless as a martial artist and on the other hand she demonstrated to be full of illusions about what she could perform with her techniques so the curiosity was pretty high.  The main question that sparked to mind was: “how much sparring do you do?” and the answer was: “well, not too much, not a lot at all.  In fact when we did a few sessions time ago and I was paired with the sensei I was all over the place with him, he could not cope with my attacks: I miss sparring a lot.  That is a kind of training that I enjoy a lot and I am not getting enough of”. MT, as I said, is a large kind of guy but if as a sensei you cannot cope with one of your intermediate students in a friendly sparring this tells me a lot about what you teach and your proficiency in it.

Overall I am the first to state that a master (sensei, guru, coach…) cannot necessarily be the strongest fighter in the club: if that was the case every trainer of every world champion should be better then them: that is unpractical and quite impossible.  If you are training a world champion you should expect that he would be eventually better than you.  At the same time the world champion should be respecting you enough to understand that good part of his/her knowledge comes from you and respect you for that.

In any case here I am not talking about world class fighter, just an ordinary guy with some fighting skills. So, naturally, came my suggestion: “why don’t you come and join us for some Monday session when we are just sparring?”.  His facial expression changed he nearly turned sad in a fraction of a second and he replied: “I would love to” and then he added: ” but I cannot or I would get thrown out of the dojo”.  I was stunned while he continued: “I might do but if anybody in my dojo finds out I am out”.  I reassured stating that what happens in my club is private but nonetheless this conversation made me think a lot.

I can understand that in feudal Japan a master was training Samurais and pretending total, life time loyalty.  In the 21st century, in Cambridge England, when I hear this kind of stories I feel really strange.  My policy has always been for free world, free training: my students train in our club because they like it and they think that what we do is good for them.  Ultimately if people pay a fee for training at your club they are exchanging that money for the teaching they get…

I strongly believe that teachers that are adopting this kind of policy are in reality scared of confrontation and to be compared with other teachers or other styles.  From my point of view martial arts are a way of life and the way you train them should be a result of a selective choice of art and style once you feel you have found the one that suits you best.  Trying to hide to your students what other martial arts do and how they do it, in today’s society where videos and demonstration of just about any martial art can be found on YouTube, it sounds to me a mere illusion to protect your little territory that is not meant to grow very much.

Salus Wellness Clinics – One Year of Successes

Building a business from scratch can be challenging and, at the same time, very rewarding when results are outstanding.

Salus Wellness Clinics celebrated this week its first anniversary; the complementary health centre is now a well established business that fits well in the local community, offering a rich variety of top quality complementary health services to a broad range of members of the public.

Luca Senatore (in the picture on the right) is the sales director and co-founder, who initially planned this venture. He says, “We spotted a gap in the market and then we found this building with amazing potential and we knew it would have been a success given the innovative approach we had in mind for the clinic”.

The extra value added offered by Salus Wellness is to assist all practitioners with hands-on business coaching, consultancy and training, in areas such as sales, marketing and customer service.

Massimo Gaetani (in the picture on the left), is the marketing director and also co-founder of Salus Wellness. He says, “the majority of practitioners decide to qualify in hypnotherapy, massage or acupuncture because they have a passion for helping people which is very rewarding indeed; many of them do it without any previous experience in running a business and they fail to realise the need of entrepreneurial spirit that is necessary to succeed.”

Massimo continued by saying, “when they start offering their services to the general public, they realise that clients are not queuing outside their door and the phone is not ringing constantly; that’s a normal but de-motivating way of starting”.

People who are not used to run small businesses are simply not ready or trained to deal with the new challenges and many struggle to make a decent living for months or even years. In many occasions they give up and go back to full time occupation which, now more than ever, is not always an easy thing to do.

"cambridge", "complementary health", "salus"Salus Wellness offers, apart from the newly decorated and well maintained therapy rooms and full time reception, a comprehensive range of business development and practice management services for all practitioners working at their premises; this increases the chances for everybody’s success and creates the win-win-win situation which Salus Wellness is known for. For more information visit the Salus Wellness website.

My Thoughts About Karate

I practiced Karate Shotokan for 2 years in the early eighties; I had a go at Wado Ryu in 1994 for less then a year and I then trained in many occasions with experts, dan level, of Goju Ryu, Shorin Ryu and Kyokushin kaikan.  I find it an interesting martial art(s) that brings, in most cases the whole Japanese (and Okinawan) tradition.


I will generalise in this post Karate as a single martial art while I am aware and encourage the reader to find out the differences between the over 10 main styles that all share similar techniques but develop a variety of strategies and preferences for linear rather than circular movements, harder versus softer approach to attacks and blocks and so on.  Karate manifests itself with a broad variety of strikes using various parts of the hand, elbow, knee, and foot.  Hands can be used to strike with a closed fist to hit in a traditional punch with the knuckles, hammer fist or back fist; open hand can deliver the chop with the external edge, knife hand or poke with fingers, finishing with palm strikes.  A foot can hit with the ball in a front kick, the edge in a side kick and the hill in a rear kick.

A Karate class is usually regulated by a number of rituals like the initial salute, bowing toward the master and fellow students and kneeling in line while the master explains. The basic techniques, punches and kicks are usually taught first, together with the simpler stances and guards.  Other strikes and advanced stances and position come later, at higher ranks.

When training Karate practitioners become aware of the famous 3 K:

  • Kata, representing forms: they are sets of choreographed moves, to be practiced solo, simulating a fight against a number of opponents.
  • Kihon, representing technical training: when two people are practicing various techniques attacking and defending each other.
  • Kumite, representing fighting: when two opponents are facing each other and freely attack and defend each other in a competitive way. Rules about Kumite vary between styles: in some cases it’s bases on point sparring, with numerous limitations about areas that can be hit (e.g. no legs or back) while in other cases it’s free, full contact.


Karate (that in Japanese translates as empty hand, with the mean of fighting without a weapon) is a traditional martial art that originated during the 19th century in Okinawa when it was independent from the rest of Japan and it later spread across Japan.  While some influence of Chinese martial arts is found in the very early stages of its development the various styles of Karate developed independently in Japan and Okinawa.  Karate started to have a significant presence in the West after WWII and gained great popularity after the big wave of Hong Kong movies that were shown in cinema theatres in the early seventies.  The Kung Fu shown in most of these movies was similar enough, to untrained eyes, to stimulate and encourage many people to start learning and practicing Karate.

What I like about Karate

Karate, like many martial arts, teaches and improves coordination, body awareness, and increases fitness helping to delivery faster and powerful techniques.  With an average practice of 2-4 hours per week it keeps the practitioner in good shape and it can avoid the need for gym or other sport activities.  The continuous training helps to ensure a good harmony between mind and body that can be utilized outside the Dojo (the venue where a Japanese martial art is practiced).  Karate teaches essentially 3 good things:

  • How to have snapping, explosive, techniques that can hit at the required and wanted level of power.
  • Great control of one’s body at speed: you learn to have good coordination and how to hold your body in very precise positions.
  • Devotion and respect for the master and fellow students: it instils discipline and rigour in practice and in life.

What I don’t like about Karate

In my experience Karate has 4 main limitations:

  • The basic concept of guard is very open, offering a large percentage of the practitioner body a face available to the opponent’s attacks.
  • Most karate styles rely on very strong, decisive, strikes assuming that a single kick or punch will stop the opponent.  Bad news starts when this doesn’t happen.
  • It’s not very effective in pure self defence terms: most of the practice makes lot of assumptions that are simply not true and when a random attacker hits you.  I know of many experts of Karate that were seriously injured in street brawls.
  • Some of its training can bring long term damages to joints and limbs: I feel that some of the practices failed to evolve into the latest discoveries in terms of physiology and sport sciences.


I am convinced that the basics of Karate are useful as a general concept.  I would suggest it as excellent first martial arts, especially for children and young people because of the discipline and respects it instils.  Classes for children as usually very well controlled in order to keep the practice safe for young people.

In any case I firmly believe that a decent or good knowledge of two or three martial arts is fundamental to have a reasonable understanding of how the same thing can be done differently.

Getting Started in Complementary Health

An increasing number of people decide at some point in their life to get the necessary qualifications and become a complementary health practitioner.  The recession and job losses of the recent years have somehow inspired many people to make the big step and, sometimes without other choices, start their own private practice. The challenges which can be found when working in private practice affects both professionals with university degrees like psychotherapists and psychologists, as well as other recognised qualifications.

Starting a complementary health business is similar to opening a shop, an office based service supplier or any other traditional commercial business.  Like in any other business, sales and cash flow are essential to guarantee positive results and so one of the most important things you need to do is to ensure that you  have plenty of clients  to pay your overheads  and  guarantee yourself a decent income.  Depending on the country where the complementary health business is based, it is also necessary to be familiar with legal, professional and business requirements.

What is a Complementary Health Business?

Complementary health treatments include a broad range of disciplines. It is important to learn about the particular form of holistic health practice and  complete the necessary training before committing to opening a practice. . Examples of complementary health businesses include:

  • Hypnotherapy
  • Massage
  • Reflexology
  • Reiki
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • NLP

Setting Up a Private Practice in Complementary Health

Some complementary health practitioners work from home whereas others set up a separate office/studio in which to work from.  There are both advantages and disadvantages in working  from home  as there are in working from a private studio; initial set up for a home practice may be cheaper but there will need to be enough space to work professionally and take into account:

  • equipment/furniture needed
  • health and safety
  • legal requirements
  • scheduling and managing appointments
  • associated costs
  • personal privacy and security

Insurance, Legal and Professional Requirements for a Complementary Health Practice

There are different insurance, legal and professional requirements in the UK. It may be necessary to obtain a business license (even if working from home) from the local authorities and comply with certain local and national laws. In addition, it may be necessary to obtain professional memberships in order to apply for an adequate professional insurance cover; different types of insurance cover may be needed.

Maintaining Tax Records and Banking for a Complementary Health Practice

It is important to keep a record of all purchases and expenses and receipt of income for tax purposes; at the end of the tax year, a complimentary health business will be expected to file a tax return either as a sole trader or an incorporated limited company (partnerships may be applicable if two or more practitioners work together).  Opening a business’ bank account is also essential in order to keep business transactions separate from personal ones.

Marketing a Holistic Health Business

I hope it doesn’t come as a surprise when I say that in the 21st century, every business should have a web presence in addition to other direct and indirect marketing operations.   A complementary health business can be marketed through a combination of web site, blogs, forums and social networking. Depending on the skills level of the holistic health practitioner, it may be necessary to employ someone to both set up and maintain the various web marketing tools required.

Some complementary health practices, both in the UK and abroad , are not tightly regulated, making it simple for almost anyone to set up and call themselves a holistic health practitioner or practice. However, in order to maintain high standards and increase the chances  for success, it is advisable to take all accredited training in the chosen discipline, obtain insurance,  memberships to the relevant governing body and comply with the relevant legal requirements.

Working Within a Professional Health Centre

While working from home can be a simple and cost-effective way to get started, it can limit the opportunities of expansion as well as the amount of money that can be charged.  An effective alternative is to work from a complementary health centre which, among other basic things can offer:

  • good quality therapy rooms that are suitable for your  therapy/discipline
  • a central and easily accessible location reception and phone answering service to ensure that your phone calls are answered and your clients or prospects are well looked after
  • a place where you always feel  safe  when working with clients

The main advantages of working from a professional complementary health centre are:

  • better image
  • possibility of justifying higher fees
  • building up a stronger brand


Getting Started in Complementary Health can be a very rewarding and life changing decision.  When well-managed, it can bring financial accomplishments, the opportunity of making a difference in many people’s lives and achieving a great level of satisfaction.

However, it should be considered for what it really is: a business venture which as such requires accurate planning and adequate business skills in marketing and sales.

My Thoughts About Tae Kwon Do

Finding a Tae Kwon Do class is usually very easy, in most places and for this reason I have practiced Tae Kwon Do (TKD) in a number of locations around the world (UK, Indonesia, Antilles, Spain) and I was lucky enough to train several times with some top experts, exchanging, apart from punches and kicks, opinions and ideas about the pros and cons of this art.


TKD is a traditional, striking martial art based on kicks and punches although the focus is mainly on the formers.  By traditional I mean having a structured format for the class, naming techniques in the original language and a strict code of conduct and discipline about addressing the master and interacting with fellow students.  TKD practitioners use a white Gi similar to the use used by other martial art although the top is usually a V-neck shirt rather than a traditional jacket.  Seen from the outside TKD manifest itself with two opponents facing each other and attacking body or the head with either kicks or punches with the aim of scoring or eventually knocking down the opponent.  TKD originated in South Korea where it happens to be the national sport and it is one of the most popular martial arts in the world: it was also the second Eastern martial art to become an Olympic sport after Judo.  TKD is represented in many different styles and it is organised world wide in a number of different associations that all practice styles that are all slightly different from each other.  The two main associations are WTF and ITF.  TKD is also often referred as the Korean Karate: this is a wrong definition because the two arts are substantially different although the original definition of Kara Te (in Japanese translated as empty hand, intending to fight without weapons) can be applied to TKD as well.


Martial arts are usually not invented from scratch but defined by a person that, after studying and practicing other styles, puts together some aspects of those and give to the new art/style a new name, identity, set of rules and etiquette.  TKD followed exactly this route by being a merge of several ancient arts from Korea and the neighbouring countries, with a strong influence from Karate.  The person considered being the father and highly respected founder of TKD was General Choi Hong Hi who was an experienced martial artist from South Korea: he had the opportunity of studying Karate while living in Japan during the Japanese occupation of South Korea and he defined TKD in the late 50es. General Choi also founded ITF in 1966.

What I like about TKD

Practicing TKD develops some of best, fastest and most powerful kicking techniques and if you fight experts of TKD be careful about their legs: that’s where most if not all of their attacks are likely to come from.  TKD training aims at developing a great level of flexibility for the legs and most drills are meant to combine kicks from both the front and rear legs in very fast sequences.  TKD also encourages using many jumping kicks to achieve higher target and, again, allowing attacks from a broader range of angles.  All kicks are practiced at full contact so each strike is very powerful.

What I don’t like about TKD

In my opinion kicks are fantastic weapons and deliver lot of damage: at the same time punches must have a role in a fight because when the distance is too short it’s important to have means of attacking and defending against hand strikes.  The fact that even in Olympic competitions it is allowed to kick the head at full power with but just light contact with punches the whole style develops with rather poor guard. Assuming that kicks will solve all situations most TKD practitioners put little emphasis on a proper guard that protects the head from punches.  Given the level of leg flexibility expected by high kicks, TKD is most suitable for people that are naturally flexible and start training at a young age: in my experience I never met anyone that achieved a decent level of proficiency in TKD when starting in their thirties or forties.  Last by not least: in a self defence situation high kicks are always a dangerous option to go for and they cannot be used when you attacker is already close to you.  Therefore the applicability of TKD in a self defence situation is lower than many other styles available.


I think TKD is an excellent martial art that teaches powerful techniques: I find it incomplete due to poor hand strikes repertoire.  I would suggest it as a good first martial art, particular for children and young people because it instils discipline and respect while I would rule out beginners in their thirties and above for the reasons I explained above.

Martial Arts and Pain

Practicing martial arts, as well as any other physical activity and sport, can cause pain due to accidents or simple practice: this post discusses some of the aspects of pain and my view of dealing with it.

What is pain?

Wikipedia states that:

Pain is the unpleasant feeling common to such experiences as stubbing a toe, burning a finger, putting iodine on a cut, and bumping the “funny bone“.[1] The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”.[2]

Pain motivates us to withdraw from damaging or potentially damaging situations, protect the damaged body part while it heals, and avoid those situations in the future.[3] It is initiated by stimulation of nociceptors in theperipheral nervous system, or by damage to or malfunction of the peripheral or central nervous systems.[4] Most pain resolves promptly once the painful stimulus is removed and the body has healed, but sometimes pain persists despite removal of the stimulus and apparent healing of the body; and sometimes pain arises in the absence of any detectable stimulus, damage or pathology…

Different people will have different feelings of pain corresponding to the same stimulus.  At the same time tolerance to pain is a very subjective thing.

Low pain threshold

To some extend having a low tolerance to pain has one advantage: people with low pain threshold will usually try to reduce or avoid pain, causing them to be more careful then others about everything.  That could be not ideal for a martial artist.  Low tolerance can in fact be very annoying because any little impact or strike can cause extreme discomfort therefore incapacitating fighters to continue their actions; worse it can trigger irrational reactions and limiting their ability to fight with a clear mind.

High pain threshold

At the opposite side of the spectrum people with high tolerance to pain will care less about being hit: this can sometimes cause them to be more exposed to danger and more likely of being involved in more serious accidents.  A high pain threshold can be at the same time a serious competitive advantage for full contact fighters: being able to continue fighting despite pain can make the difference between winning and loosing a fight.


Some martial arts encourage the practice of specific conditioning exercises that allow students to improve their resistance to pain and how to deal with it.  From a physiological point of view repetitive strikes to any body parts are far from useful; while extensive and repetitive bruises on the body and limbs can be un aesthetical, internal organs and the head can suffer permanent damages when they receive repetitive strikes.

I usually encourage my students to avoid, to the best of their ability, hits in the head while I am obviously aware it can be difficult while sparring.  To anyone who states that to be a good martial artist (or fighter) you need to be able to receive any kind of strike without showing pain I would answer in two ways:

  • A good martial artist should be good at blocking or avoiding strikes. Yes, in the case a strike goes through she will get on with life and try to block better next time.
  • There is a large number of (ex) boxers with permanent brain damages, mostly caused by repetitive head strikes: it’s just a simple demonstration that you just cannot train the brain to absorb these impacts.

Personally I don’t really mind getting occasionally bruised but I can usually avoid most damages by blocking effectively my opponents’ attacks using my hands protected by gloves rather than absorbing those attacks on the arms.

Redirecting pain?

A few weeks ago I took part to a Silat seminar: the master running it spent a significant part of the training explaining that conditioning is very important for their style and he insisted that pain should be ignored and absorbed and the energy generated should be redirected toward the opponent to generate more powerful attacks: I am in total disagreement with this philosophy because I believe that a martial artist will fight better when relaxed rather than angry.  Anger can cause irrational reactions and, limiting mental flexibility, reduces the chances of coping with a number of situations.


Pain is a fact of life and, if you are involved in an energetic activity like a contact sport or a martial art, can be a normal day to day companion.  While practitioners of martial arts should try their best to avoid getting injured they should also acknowledge the fact that it’s a fact of life and it should be dealt with, without becoming too familiar with it.


Understanding Strong Posture

Different martial arts teach and instill different postures that have been designed to offer the ideal position(s) to best use attack and defend actions for that specific style.  Although what works for Aikido is so substantially different from Kickboxing or Wing Chun they all make sense when you apply the techniques from their particular repertoire.

This post addresses basic concepts about what a strong posture is and how it can be better understood and improved.

Some basic attributes of a strong posture

  1. well balanced: attacks can come from different directions and your posture should be able to cope with it;
  2. well rooted: you should feel in control of your balance and how to shift it back, forth and sideways;
  3. relaxed: the posture should not involve any unnecessary muscle;
  4. with a proper guard: a strong posture for martial arts will always have to reflect the most adequate guard for that style;
  5. ready to action: you should be always ready to react to an attack so your posture should reflect that; do spend some time analysing “what if” situation and try to be realistic with your own level of fitness and proficiency in your style.

Developing a strong posture

A strong element of self awareness is essential to well perform martial arts techniques and moves: good news is that the actual training helps developing the self  awareness that helps its own improvement.  Following the teaching of an expert teacher you can surely have a feeling of what is suggested and required by the style you are practicing.

The next step, once you are fully comfortable with the basics is experimenting and see what works for you, your body shape and level of fitness: what is ideal for an Olympic champion of tae kwon do will not equally work for a software engineer practicing Ju Jitsu.

Understand and improve your strong posture

In my opinion the best training for your posture is to increase your level of awareness about it.  Be aware of your position feel it with your eyes closed.  Then try moving forward and back, then side to side and then in circle: stop in between, literally freeze in position and check.

A mirror is also a great tool: if you see your image and can balance all elements associated to it you are likely to store them into your unconscious memory when automatic reactions are originated.

The final and next step is asking a friend or training partner to test your posture by pushing, pulling or simply testing where weak points can be found.

10 Reasons Why Martial Art Are an Effective Alternative to Gym, Aerobic and Lifting Weights

Although martial arts are not team activities there are many elements of cohesion that motivate martial arts practice more that any other sport. Let analyse why this is true:

  1. Practicing a martial art is a long time investment in your health and well being: the time to proficiency is often long enough to establish good habits in your life, those that last for a long time. If and when you stop training for a while you’ll miss it, both physically, mentally and emotionally.
  2. Most martial arts teach a broad variety of techniques that keep you busy for many years just to master them all. In this you see a natural progression and having continuously new things to learn it makes it very interesting. Many masters state that perfection can be aimed but never achieved, therefore even after many years of training you are running after perfection while you keep adapting your knowledge and techniques to you ageing body.
  3. As are you naturally going to meet people that are better than you it will be natural to have a sense of challenge to improve day after day, session after session. In general the progression is easy to monitor and to measure therefore it is relatively easy to compare results against effort.
  4. The achievement of a certain level of proficiency, lesson after lesson will release endorphins that naturally make you feel good. At the end of each training session, with the natural tiredness you’ll have a feeling of well being that is quite addictive.
  5. Although martial arts manifest in many different ways and levels of intensity the overall training will ensure the practitioner to be a well round, balanced athlete with a decent level of fitness, stamina, strength, flexibility and coordination.
  6. Although martial arts are usually practiced in pairs and groups, some of the training can be rehearsed solo: that allows the practitioner to keep training, at least on some of the exercises, when she is on her own.
  7. Martial arts practice involves a reasonably complete workout rather than concentrating on a single part of the body. Different styles will put more emphasis on different areas of the body while practicing a balanced mix of exercises.
  8. Martial arts are a great stress relief: the aggression accumulated during work or while at school can be easily channelled and released in a controlled manner toward the practice of your techniques. It’s likely that after training the amount of aggression you had before starting is reduced or completely gone and you feel calmer and more in control.
  9. Martial arts training ensures that your whole attention will be directed toward your training, with minimal distraction. Even when your feel at an adequate level of proficiency and most moves come naturally without the need of thinking too carefully, your partner / opponent is there to punch you, to kick you or to throw you. Self preservation will naturally motivates you to put full attention in what you are doing.
  10. The sense of challenge and cooperation that can be found in many martial arts club I have experienced can foster friendship and social entertainment outside the training hall (dojo, kwon, dojang…).

The Importance of Proper Technique

If you ask a person with no experience in martial arts to throw a punch or a kick you might get some kind of result that will be, in most cases, very inefficient and inconsistent. Having a foundation based on some kind of martial art ensures the application of a technique based on the style(s) this person has studied and that will apply one of the basic theories behind the art itself.

Each style of martial art has a basic philosophy and underlying foundation that determines various characteristics of the style itself. Usually this was outlined by the person that originally defined the techniques and it reflects four basic principles:

  • His background and experience:
    • a broad range of different styles might have generated a clever mix of the useful techniques from each style
    • a long experience in a single style might have just evolved into a new one that is more in line with his personal taste
  • His body shape:
    • a small, short person might have developed styles that must be, by definition, very clever in defeating larger opponents;
    • a person with good flexibility in the lower body might have developed a style with many high kicks
    • a stocky person with lower centre of gravity might have developed a wrestling and grappling style
  • His taste for one or the other technique: certain people like punching others like kicking or grappling
  • The environment where he grew up and where he developed his techniques: the kind of opponents he had to fight and defeat determined what techniques and defence strategies that he considered useful to be in his style.

Have a look at the many styles available; some of the principles behind them will be even in contradiction with each other:

  • A Karate expert will mostly strike his opponent while a Judo or Hapkido practitioner’s main goal will be to grab, throw or manipulate the opponent’s body
  • Wing chun mostly uses straight strikes and footwork while Aikido is all based on circular movements
  • Kicks delivered by experts of Kickboxing, Thai boxing, Tae Kwon Do are similar although the emphasis is on different rhythm and targets on the opponent’s body
  • A Silat expert will keep a typically open guard that attracts the opponent to hit in between, working like a trap, while Wing Chun will protect the central line inviting the opponent to go around it

It is important to remember that a style was not defined overnight. Whoever has spent long time to define a martial art did a great job to understand human anatomy, biomechanics and how to exploit natural movements while using particular groups of muscles that are suitable for certain situations.

It is therefore paramount understanding the style you are practicing and what the logic behind it is: this is to maximize your power, speed and efficiency in any given situation. A reality check is obviously a good thing to do once you start understanding your style. Any comment is appreciated.

How Realistic is Your Training?

Considering that martial arts are, in essence, methodologies for fighting I always consider paramount to perform a reality check of each application. This is to assess if and when a technique or combination can be useful in a self defence or real fight situation.

Please notice that some styles, like kick boxing, tae kwon do and judo are to be considered martial sports and they follow rules that are designed to allow a sport competition to take place without causing serious injuries to those taking part in it. To some extend certain martial sports train full contact and a professional or a serious amateur of these is pretty safe in a fight.

Certain styles that are pure martial arts, without sport applications, are meant to be useful for real fights and defending yourself. I am aware of a number of masters and instructors that remain pretty theoretical on the way they teach and assume that things will simply work: these people give a false, very dangerous, illusion to their students that risk to be seriously injured or killed in a real fight. It all good stating that one or the other technique will hurt an opponent, it’s another issue practicing it to ensure it works all the times.

So how do you perform a reality check? Here are some hints:

  • Have you tested your punches (or kicks, elbow or knee strikes) for real power?
  • The same strike might knock somebody down if applied to the head but just hurt a bit in certain areas of the body: did you consider that?
  • Have you considered how bad it could be hitting somebody in the face to find out that he hardly noticed the strike? What would you do then?
  • How much power do you think you need in order to knock somebody down or seriously injury them, allowing you to run away?
  • How would you react if somebody is charging you like a bull? Do you have a technique that would allow stopping or deflecting his attack?
  • Do you practice techniques that work at long, medium and short range? What about if the attacker is grabbing you?
  • Striking can be the non ideal solution sometimes. Do you practice techniques to seize the opponent and neutralizing him? Perhaps immobilizing him with a joint lock?
  • If you are below average the terms of body weight and size then you should consider training to defeat bigger people. What’s your body size compared to the average population?

I would be interested to hear comments about these issues.

Two Good Ways to Avoid a Fight

I am convinced that getting involved in a fight is something that should be avoided at all times. There might be circumstances where fighting is absolutely unavoidable and I repeat something I have already expressed before: in a fight or flight situation the latter should be preferred if you are sure you can run faster than your attacker.

What triggers a fight? Many different circumstances and reasons. In any case it takes more than one person to be involved.  Even if somebody is bothering you or threatening you in many, many cases you could avoid the physical confrontation by talking the situation down or by simply walking away. Unfortunately our pride sometimes plays bad tricks and we would love to be like inspector Harry Callahan, being able to state a few sentences and then punish our attacker in one way or the other.

The so called self defence should really be applied to situations when you are physically attacked and the only way of getting out of the situation is to stop your attacker with all possible means before he might cause serious injury or death to yourself or your loved ones.  While it is not often possible to turn and offer the other cheek it is possible to avoid a fight and walk home rather than risking to spend some time in a cell or in hospital as a result of a fight gone wrong one way or the other.

B.H. is a friend of mine ex professional boxer and is surely a guy you would not like to be involved in a fight. With nearly hundred fights under his belt between amateur and professional level he is a person who has spent more time in front of somebody that would like to knock him down than most street fighters would ever experience in several lives. As it happened once a guy thought to have a good reason to punch him straight in the face.  This is a fairly common, not too exciting, experience for a professional fighter: probably similar to having a cup of coffee for the average office worker.  The simple end to the story is that the attacker was so surprised of B. not reacting at all to the attack and he simply added: “It takes a lot more to make me angry, and if I get angry I could kill you”.  This sentence made me think, it is true that a professional fighter is in business to harm other people for money.  At the same time he will not necessarily react with anger to the typical situation where most people would go berserk.

Another similar experience happened to me personally. Although I have never been a professional, I consider myself capable of seriously harming the average punter with bad intentions that happens to challenge me.  A few months ago I drove out of my driveway in a winter, dark afternoon and somebody in another car was arriving at a distance that I failed to evaluate correctly so he had to slow down.  He blew his horn violently and repeatedly.  As I stopped at the red light a few hundred yards away I promptly checked in my rear mirror where the guy was and I noticed a car behind mine with no driver: in less than a second I noticed the guy was by my side window yelling at me . He was in a rage and ready for a fight, inviting me to get out.  I apologised to him and said that I had not seen him coming (never mind he was probably faster than he should be). Nevertheless, he kept insulting me and after about 30 seconds of a few more insults he went back to his car, the light turned green and I drove on to my meeting.  The guy had a scary look but had he tried to grab or injure me I could have probably got rid of him in no time, perhaps leaving him in the middle of the road … and then what?  He had seen me coming out of my drive way. He could always come back there and wait for me with a weapon and/or with friends. He could even burn my house down or do other extreme measures.  Are all these terrible consequences really worth the fact that he thinks I am an idiot”?  Not really, so I left him with his opinion and moved on.

The choices that B. and I took were safer in the end because we avoided, in different ways and circumstances, a fight that could be avoided. for B. being punched in the face is as normal as a hand shake; for me, while I don’t like to be called names, I can conclude that it is simply someone’s opinion and it does not affect my self esteem.

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Differences Between Aikido and Tae Kwon Do

I once met a guy and our conversation drifted very quickly into martial arts (surprise!), specifically about self defence.  I was confused when he stated that he wanted to learn Tao Kwon Do for self defence because a friend of his is a highly ranked student of the discipline.  My first reply was: “Tao Kwon Do is mostly based on high kicks, really not ideal for self defence and you are a 37 years old reasonably large and heavy male, Tao Kwon Do is ideal with people with lot of flexibility in their legs and trying to achieve it at this age might be tricky”.  He continued with his explanation that in ideal situation he would like to be able to seize the opponent’s attack and avoid striking but simply locking his attacker in a way that would be impossible for him to hurt any further but without risks of injuring him too much.  I then added that what he was talking about was possibly doing Aikido, or Ju Jitsu or other styles not primarily based on strikes… and then he remarked:

“Oh!, yes, Aikido, I meant Aikido, this is what my friend is an expert of…”.


To me somebody that confuses Aikido with Tao Kwon Do is like confusing a steak with a salad, both food but very different in content. So what are the main differences that a new-be should look out for when choosing a class of either Aikido or Tao Kwon Do?

Let’s list the main ones:

  • Aikido is Japanese; Tae Kwon Do is Korean, well no easy to spot by observing them :-)
  • In an Aikido class you will see most people in a white Gi, perhaps with coloured belts and the higher ranked people and the masters will wear a black hakama, a very broad pair of trousers that look like a skirt.  In a Tae Kwon Do class they wear white Gi, with coloured belts but their top is some times a “V” neck long sleeves shirt.
  • In Aikido you see people twirling and twisting, throwing and applying arm and wrist locks: people fall and fly around a lot; in Tae Kwon Do  opponents are striking each other, mostly with kicks to the upper part of the body (sporting rules forbid kicks below the belt).
  • Aikido is mainly defensive, e.g. it starts working when an opponent attacks you; Tae Kwon Do is based on attacking with strikes.
  • Aikido’s techniques can be subtle and usually require a very long time, several years, to be practised at a level of proficiency to be useful in self defence; Tae Kwon Do can start to be effective with some of its techniques within a few months or a year of practice.
  • Aikido teaches, apart from the bare hand practice, the use of various weapons like sword and staff;  Tae Kwon Do  is purely based on bare had strikes.

I have chosen and selected 2 videos to show what Aikido and Tae Kwon Do look like.  It was harder than I thought as many are not representative enough.  Please keep the volume down and ignore the part of the Tae Kwon Do video from the boxing ring onwards:

Image reproduced from http://upload.wikimedia.org and http://www.fairedusportamarseille.com