Category: Martial Arts

I’ve been doing a stupid amount of research about online tools for managing your dojo. This is a breakdown of 5 of the sites I’ve researched. I do have a personal preference, but I’ve tried to be as balanced as possible in my overview.

The Dojo Managerlink
This site is based on simplicity and ease of use. The design of the software makes it easy to use, and gives a desktop feel, very rarely do you see the page reloading itself to refresh the data, and many smooth effects make for fun eye candy. It includes many of the typical features, tracking student fees, events and testing, belt tracking, reporting, and basic lead/visitor tracking. There is also a mobile site for quick reference from any smart phone.

Printable invoices with a custom massage are there, and there’s a feature to allow integration with paypal.

The Dojo Manager is still in beta, and there have been many updates and changes in the last several months, and the developers are very engaged with the users. The site is free for 30 days after that ranges from $5 to $20 depending on the number of active students.

Overall, the site is well executed. There are currently not as many features as some of the other sites in this list, but you can’t beat the price. This would be my first choice for a school under 30 students, and if you like the usability and the features of the site, it could easily handle much larger schools. Once some marketing and auto-invoicing features are added, this would be my top pick overall.

Zen Plannerlink
Zen Planner seems to be focused around billing, with many features related to online billing and account tracking. There are also lead tracking, marketing features, and automated email reminders. One of the nice features of this site is the automatic creation of a school web page. It will not create a full web site for you school, but it is a great way to get started on the process, and also includes a page for online student payments.

The downside is that it starts at $55/month for up to 50 students and goes up to $120/month for 300 students. For a 300 student school $120/month may be worth it. But it seems difficult to justify $55 a month for a 10-20 student school.

Igo Karatelink
This site (as well as the remaining 2 sites), are membership management sites. So they are not specific to martial arts, but also provide general features to any site which tracks members. The upsitde to this is that it’s packed with features, the downside is there may be many features which you pay for but never use.

The interface feels a little “bubble gum” for lack of a better term. But it is truly packed with features.
Online payments, student fee and payment tracking, employee tracking, full POS system, attendance tracking with key-tags, members can register and pay for classes online. There are also many training options on the site for you and any staff you may have.

There are unfortunately two distinct downsides to this software. It’s not web based, so must be installed on a specific computer, and it’s $800. You can add other computers to your “network” for an additional $100. This is a one-time fee, so if you’re planning on paying $120 a month for another solution, you might find your self being able to actually save some money of you have a large school. And that saving may be significant over a few years.

This software is defiantly designed for Yoga studios or Gyms, which have many, many members, and a dedicated staff to manage the facility and members. But it’s got a great features list, and a one-time payment may be a great option for larger schools.

Mind-Body Online (MBO)link
This seems to be the “Cadillac” of membership management software. If there’s a feature you can think of.. I’d guess this site has it. There’s even a iPhone application for it. To some degree it’s the of membership management. Scheduling seems to be a big focus, but online payments and transaction processing is all a part of the software. The interface is not the most intuitive, but I’m sure after spending a little time with it, it would be fine.

They have a nice demo area on the site, where you can play with, and use the software before you commit to buying it. The pricing for the system is based on the number of “professionals” you have as a part of your business. From the perspective of a martial arts studio, this means instructors. It starts at $39 for a single instructor, and goes up to $155 per month for 21-50 instructors. If you’ve got a school with 21-50 instructors, you can afford $155 per month. $39 per month is still a little steep for one instructor with 10-20 students. Although, this is a feature packed and very well designed site.

JackRabbit Dojolink
According to Google, this is the top result for “Dojo Management Software”. JackRabbit, MBO, and Igo seem to be a big dogs on the block, and honestly have a very similar feature set. JackRabbit specifically lists: student skills, class management, event tracking, instructor tracking, and reporting. I believe online payments are also a part of the tool and attendance tracking with a barcode reader is an interesting feature (barcode scanner is extra $, of course). The only thing I’m not a big fan of is the interface, it’s a bit difficult to use, and there’s a lot going on on each screen, again this may be simply a learning curve thing, and (of course) just my preference.

The cost is per students and starts at $45/month for 0-100 students up to $295/month for 3001-4000 students (yeah, at 4000 students, I’m not going to sweat $295/month)

I’d recommend The Dojo Manager for schools under 30 students, it seems to be the only one that is affordable for “young” schools. Online payments and the other features missing, aren’t something many school just starting would find valuable anyway. More than 30 students it’s time to shell out the big bucks for MBO. Although, The Dojo Manager is still in beta, and could very competitive with MBO, when released in the spring of 2011.

Learning vs. Practicing

PracticeI enjoy learning new things.  It’s just part of my character.  I’m not a big fan of practicing.  So to drill the same thing over and over again, does not hold my interest.

The unfortunate fact of life is that you can never be great without practice, and lots of it.  With talent alone you can be good, but to truly excel at anything you’ve got to practice.

Repetition grinds action into long term memory.  These long term memories serve as domain knowlege in order to give you perspective on other learning experiences.  Without practice the knowledge will not be stored in long term memory.

Martial arts provides a good example.  If I practice a jab for an extended period of time, I will have a great deal of domain knowledge about jabs, more so then someone that practices a variety of techniques.  I will also be able to evaluate other techniques against that knowledge.  There is a balance to this and identifying your goal is important.  If your goal is to be the the guru of jabbing, you’ve got to practice techniques within that domain.

It’s the same with martial art styles in general, if you want to be an expert in a given system you have to practice that system, the more you practice within that domain, the more expert you become.  When you practice in different systems you gain perspective at a different level, your expertise becomes more general.  The brain handles narrow domain knowledge better then broad, the factors become too many to effectively evaluate a particular technique.  Your knowledge becomes more general.

Thus, you can never be at the top of a domain unless you relentlessly practice.  If the domain is to broad, you’ll never be able to process all the experience to reach a level that you would have if you stuck with something more specific.

Seeking the angle

I’ve noticed that the vast majority of single techniques practiced with a partner are done with excessive overcommitment on the part of the uki.  The problem with “here’s all the shit I’m gonna to when I get to the side of you” is that “all the shit I’m gonna do” is the easy part.  Getting the angle is the tough part.

If I manage to get the angle on someone, I’m gonna fuck them up.  Kick, punch, knee, elbow, whatever…  When your opponent is not facing you, and you are facing them, you have a distinct and clear advantage.  How many options do you really need once you get there.

In Wing Chun we call this angle the outside gate, if you put your arms straight out, anything on the outside of that is considered the outside gate.  Figuring out what to do once you get this advantage is never a problem.  It’s ever so painful to get there.  Trying to get the angle on your opponent is challenging, to say the least.  And in my opinion not practiced enough.

Sparing (standing or ground), and Chi Sao are two great ways to practice seeking the angle.  The key is a non compliant opponent.  I’m not saying that the techniques and drills that focus on the “ass kicking” after getting the angle shouldn’t be done.  Having the muscle memory is important, you wouldn’t what to find yourself in the situation and not know instinctively how to follow through.

What I am saying is there’s a danger in feeling overconfident that your techniques will win the day, and when faced with an opponent be unable to execute.

During a recent UFC match I saw one of the guys get poked in the eye.  The whole fight stopped.  Now, I’m not sure, there may have been a little acting involved, but a hard, well trained fighter got stopped in his tracks with a move a 12 year old girl could have pulled off.

The whole sport vs. martial art thing came into focus.  I think the difficulty has been that the MMA guys are dangerous people, they train hard, they are (usually) in amazing physical condition.  They also contunually test their techniques, to a level that martial arts cannot.  This is not a group of individuals that I’d want to get angry.

Now imagine a world where those same guys train just as hard, are just as disciplined, but train in a martial art that includes the intent to mame or kill.  Although the techniques cannot be tested, it’s good to have an awareness of them, and thay can be practiced in a controlled and safe setting.

As with every great debate, there is truth on all sides.  And I believe that the majority of the Martial/Fight community respects and learns from each other.  Unfortunately it’s those that are the loudest that have the most visibility.

There are two basic options for footwork in the martial arts.  Weather you subscribe to linear, circular, triangular, etc…, you always need to move the lead foot first or the back foot first (OK, you could hop, leap, jump.  But for the sake of argument we’ll assume your staying on the ground)

balancepart2slide3_copyYou can take a full step, thus switching leads, or maintain your lead.

As taking large steps in WC is rare, unless you’re bridging to engage, we’ll focus on maintaining the lead.  When moving the front foot first it creates a step and slide motion, your back foot sliding into a new position based on the position of the lead.  The other option is a skip step, where your rear foot moves first, taking the desired position, then your lead foot is placed, based on the rear foot placement.

In Wing Chun the step and slide is the only footwork used (when not switching leads), it’s believed that the skip step contains inherent risks and loss of speed.  I agree that there are risks to the motion, but this should not be enough reason to eliminate it from your training.

I’ve been doing some Silat training and have found the skip step to be very useful in Chi Sao.  Using it allows you to hook the lead foot, and shift the angle of your stance.  An interesting result that’s worth playing with.

Wing Chun as a Soft Art

Ip Man

Believe it or not but I’ve come to realize that a lot of Wing Chun is, what I would consider, a soft art.  Attacking the center-line is a “big” concept in Wing Chun, and when you’re not attacking your developing an opening for an attack.  This makes for a very “hard” style of WC at a lot of schools, and creates very competitive Chi Sao.  Two people with arms  flexed tightly as possible, pushing against each other.

During Chi Sao, a common defense to an attack is  to project your defense toward your opponents center, a Tan that turns into a Bil, for example (for a cross arm attack).  This makes many beginners feel that you always need to project forward, but all rules are meant to be broken.

When Chi Saoing with less experienced students, the Lap Sao (pulling the cross arm) is shocking.  I see people leaning into Chi Sao, bigger people like to do this to control the exercise, step to the corner and Lap, and if you’re up for it don’t forget your Chi Gerk (sweep the leg Johnny).  Remember that “soft” does not mean slow, to often I see soft movement being done slow.  If your partner is already being aggressive enough to lean into you, you’re not going to get away with doing this slow.

A nice firm push can set up a pull.  Push, pull, strike.  Don’t be afraid to turn your body,  “face their center-line” is more like a guideline then a rule.  If you find your getting a lot of pressure from any direction, consider redirection to create an opportunity.

Switching Arts

I’ve found it takes about 2 years for me to get board with a martial art style.  I’m not sure what that’s all about.  Maybe it’s after about 2 years I’ve learned all the basics and now I’ve got to perfect those movements, which doesn’t hold my interest.

At some point I need to decide if I’m going to be OK with switching all the time.  I feel like I should take one art to “completion”, meaning learn all the techniques and forms (not necessarily perfect them).  Not really sure why I feel this way, it just seems to me as well rounded martial artists, I should have at least one “core” art.

The first 1-2 years is all the cool stuff, learning new techniques, and concepts.  Meeting new people and masters.  In all honesty, the first 1-2 years is also all the “easy” stuff.  At the same time dedication and commitment are part of the martial arts.  And if I ever want to teach again, I need to be much more dedicated to a single art.

I realize that retention rates at higher ranks is lower, but I think many people simply stop their training all together.

I’m at that point, where I feel like switching again, been feeling that way for several months, so I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  I guess time will tell.

For a long time I’ve poo-pooed the idea of distance learning martial arts.  Without an instructor in the room, correcting subtle movements and pushing you when you need it, you might be able to learn the gross motor movements, but not much more.

My school ( offers a distance learning program.  As does the school of my close friend Sterling, who is currently distance learning.  One of the things I’ve noticed in working out with Sterling is that he uses a very standard set of drills to train.  When he asks if I’d like to work with him on my Wing Chun, I have to stop and think for a while before coming up with a drill to practice.  At the school there’s always an instructor to tell me what to do, and if there’s not, it’s back to more chi-sao.

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer having a class to go to, and if there were a PSP school in Grand Rapids, I’m sure Sterling would be attending as often as possible.

Books and DVDs impose a rigid structure to an art and training.  This makes it harder to learn the art, but it’s a great way to learn how to teach the art.  Learning how to teach your art is the next step in learning it yourself.

When you’re finding yourself at a loss for excersizes and drills to work on, go to the books and dvds.  A lot of thought was put into what is in there.

I can clearly remember my first martial art class. The mirrors along the walls, the rack of exotic and seemingly deadly weapons, and most of all, the instructor. The crisp white uniform, the intricate design of the patches, and the jet black, black belt. Her moves were perfect, as though I’d stepped into one of the movies I additively watched on Saturday mornings. Even though she was 5’4″ and 110Lbs. soaking wet, everyone in the class gave her the respect she demanded. At age 13, I knew I wanted a black belt, I wanted people to look up to me the way I looked up to her. The black belt, became, for me, a symbol of respect and admiration.

Over the years (I am now 34) I’ve moved around a lot, and the “distraction” of college, and life in general continued to keep me from attaining my black belt. I always continued my training, but never stuck with one style long enough. In those 21 years, when I tell people I practice martial arts, the first question is usually “Do you have a black belt?”, my answer had always been no.

Recently I hear martial artists, and the community in general, talking about what it means to have a black belt, and it’s meaning being diluted by schools that are too willing to hand them out. Schools that are more worried about making money then teaching good martial arts. $2,000 and 2 years of your life get you a black belt, regardless of effort and ability. They go home proud of the accomplishment, others are embarrassed by their school.

This is not to say we need to train like Kurt Sloane, with bloody shins and mangled fists. But I’ve seen black belts that are unable to perform the basic techniques of their art. How many of your fellow students do you see simply going through the motions, or “phoning it in” as I heard it called recently. Don’t get me wrong, students should be able to chose their level of commitment and dedication, but if you’re teaching others, or even being looked up to as an example, you should have a solid foundation. Part of being a black belt, is that you are an example, for other students, or anyone else for that matter.

So what has happened to my childhood symbol of respect and admiration? Two weeks ago I tested for, and received, my Black Belt. It was the most physically demanding event of my life, three and a half hours of intense physical exertion. Since then, my I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a black belt, and what it’s dilution means to me.

While not a majority, there are people that, simply put, do not deserve the black belt they wear. But what criteria do I use to judge them? Do I compare their entire martial art career to mine? Do we, as a culture, form some sort of committee to over-see all the schools? Do we allow the government to regulate black belts? The obvious answer is no. So can I, or anyone, determine if someone deserves a black belt? Unless my signature is on their certificate who am I to say, one person is more deserving then another.

The general public still has a certain respect for anyone with a black belt, even though most have never witnessed a test, or been involved in the martial arts. Their knowledge is derived from mass media and popular culture and are, for the most part, unaware of any developments in the martial art community. Most martial artists become less and less concerned about how the general public views them as the years of training pass. Their ego is less effected by the perception of others, outside the martial arts community.

It’s the opinion of other martial artists which are most influenced by the “dilution effect”. Telling another martial artists that you have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do means little if anything (I believe this effect has most damaged Tae Kwon Do). This, of course, is not limited to Tae Kwon Do, but applies, to some degree, to all styles and schools. The people that truly know what your black belt is worth, is your fellow students, and your instructor. Finally, you are the only person in the entire world that understands what your black belt means.