Archive for the ‘Concepts & Principles’ Category

Thoughts on the differences between internal and external Arts

June 22, 2017 4 comments

I often argue with my friends on if there is a difference or not. As a general rule my friends that claim there is or not have primarily studied one or the other and dabbled in the opposite.

One of the challenges to getting a clear answer is the fact that there are pure internal, pure external, but more commonly arts that are a combination aka/half internal half external.

While there is much in common between the two there are traits I consider different. For example both talk about being extremely relaxed as they move.

However an external stylist will tell you that they do extreme muscular contraction as they hit then relax (before and after). They exert power as they hit a pose/stance. An internal stylist will only talk about stretching instead of contracting.

One of the big issues I misunderstood when I tired to make the transition was that internal arts are always relaxed. This was a misunderstanding of what happens because I let energy leak out with misalignment’s. Maintaining alignments builds up a pressure empowering your alignments.

What I would suggest to those trying to transition is that external arts use alignments and posture with muscular contraction to generate force.

Internal practitioners use posture, alignments, that include stretching, relaxation and by keeping alignments to create a hydrodynamic pressure internally to generate force. Of course this is a far more in-depth topic, but I thought a good place to start.

Let me know your thoughts?


Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Do you need to do your forms in mirror image

October 22, 2015 Leave a comment

While some forms in various systems work each side evenly, most forms do not. They will tend to do some techniques on both sides and others only on one side. With that in mind your training could cause you to have gaps in your development and skill sets. One method of resolving that issue is to do your forms in both the standard way they are taught and in mirror image. This is very common in systems that have shorter forms. In some instances they don’t tell people until they reach a certain level of development that they should be done on both sides. In others they train both ways from the beginning.

Some systems have very long forms which can make doing them in mirror image more challenging. So an option used by practitioners of many systems to ensure balanced training on both sides is to take each movement out of their forms, and do them as drills moving up and down the floor.

Both methods of training can be of great benefit to your development and should not be neglected.


Mike Murphy


Categories: Concepts & Principles

McDojo Typical Class Structure

March 29, 2015 Leave a comment

As I have previously stated a typical class for adults in a McDojo is an hour. While there are different formulas for structuring classes a typical one is broken down into four fifteen minute sections. The first two sections are normally divided into 2 sections as well.

The first 15 minutes in normally calisthenics and Stretching. This is to get the blood moving and warm up all your muscle groups before practicing skills. This helps prevent injuries and also provides some basic conditioning. This portion is typically broken down into the first half  being calisthenics, the second half stretching. Things like push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts, etc. are broken into 10 counts. Normally you will do 30-50 of each, though it can very from time to time to provide variety. This helps prevent boredom and also allows people to test themselves from time to time to see their improvement.

The second 15 minutes is normally spent drilling fundamentals and consists of punching and kicking drills done in place. Normally everything is broken down into a sets of 10. The first half of that 15 minutes focuses on hand strikes, the last half of that 15 minutes focuses on kicking. Since you only have 7 and a Half minutes for kicking you will normally end up with 30-50 of each kick done on each side once you have most of the kicks taught in the system. The first 10 are low, the next 10 are solar plexus or chest high, the last 10 are head high. You may also throw combination kicks.  As students progress over time they will be able to do the highers kicks and combinations more easily, and their punching and kicking speed will improve. Most McDojos have mirrors in the front of the class so students can see themselves. This also allows them to see how they are performing and how they are performing compared to the rest of the class. This can both motivate and give them a sense of accomplishment.

At this point you would be half way through the class (30 minutes in) and you started cold and worked your level of intensity up until you have been sweating and breathing hard for some length of time. You have for all practical purposes accomplished an aerobic routine with ever increasing intensity. The main difference is that you have also worked on some basic skills that can help you for self defense or for a competitive sport version of a martial art.

The third 15 minute section is normally spent working on something the students already know. This could be drills up and down the floor of various kinds, forms, one-step sparring techniques, self-defense techniques, etc. This helps them get better at skills they already have and can be also used as a method to give them goals for self improvement. It can provide a reality check on where their level of development actually is.

The last 15 minutes of the class is where you want to teach them something new. This is were they want to razzle-dazzle the student. You want to show them something they don’t know. You want to to get them excited about learning more. Then end the class and send them home. knowing they will come back to learn more.

Now if you are running 20 or so classes a week finding something new to teach all the time can be a challenge. The easiest way to do that is to teach the students what you are working on for your own development. If you are part of a big organization you may have Instructor classes or Black Belt Classes on a regular basis that you attend as the student. The top guys will teach the Black Belt Belt Classes the same way you teach yours and leave you with something to work on. You can also attend seminars with different instructors if you are not with a group that won’t allow it. In the old days before the Internet and Youtube people used to buy VHS tapes and DVD’s  to learn more. I remember buying tapes of Joe Lewis, Benny Urquidez, and Bill Wallace. I spent countless hours/days/months watching practicing and teaching what I learned from these tapes.

In the end a McDojo is a business that is successful only if it meets the wants/needs of it’s customers. For many this may be exactly what they are looking for. For others it won’t be. In the end it is up to the student to do his/her due diligence to find the school that is the best fit for them.


Mike Murphy


Categories: Concepts & Principles

McDojo Class Length

March 8, 2015 Leave a comment

One of the easiest ways to tell if you are in a McDojo is by the class length. A typical class length for adults and older children will be an hour. Younger children will be either 30 minutes or 45 minutes (give or take). The reason for this is profit margins for the school. Floor space (rent) is the biggest budgetary expense they have.  So the more space you have for larger classes the more it costs to operate. In order to maximize the use of your floor space (instead of increasing it), you need to increase the number of classes you run. In order to run more classes they have to be shorter in duration. The more classes you have, the more students you can maintain in the same school/floor space. The more students the more money comes into the school.

Most potential students are hobbyist, and just looking for a good exercise routine etc. to help improve their lives, overall health, and possibly give them skills for self defense if they ever need them. So the typical student attends 1 to 3 one hour classes a week and may do some supplemental training.  It is about the same amount of time the average person would spend at a health club. This type of class provides most people with exactly what they are looking for.

Traditional Schools and hardcore martial artists, as well as athletes of any kind train much longer and more frequently. Though a traditional class may be as short as 2 hours long, serious practitioners do supplemental training too. Your hardcore serious practitioner will train anywhere from 2-5 hours a day (some more in the range of 8 hours) 5-6 days a week. Their daily training may be broken down into sections/sessions spread out through the day. Such as road work, conditioning, bag work, forms, grappling, or sparring.

When picking a school you need to be honest with yourself about your long term goals and how training fits into your life. You need to pick a path that will allow you to continue, and enjoy training for the longest period of time. Of course at different stages in ones life the best way for any individual to train will change. Be open minded and flexible you’ll get more out of your training . You will also enjoy it more.


Mike Murphy


Categories: Concepts & Principles

How a McDojo or picks its location

February 20, 2015 Leave a comment

The purpose of this post is to help people that are considering training in the martial arts understand the dynamics involved in running a commercial school. This way they have a better grasp of what type of school they are in or considering joining. Hopefully it will provide some insight that could help you pick the best school for you. This is not a “how-to” post for school owners.

When someone decides to run a school for a living the first thing they need to do is pick the right location for their school. Anyone that has ever had a retail business knows that the three most important things are: 1) Location, 2) location, and 3) location!

So the first step is what type of area do you want to set up your business in. Well you are looking to make money so you want to be in a well-to-do neighborhood/town/city. You need potential customers/students that can afford to pay for your services. You need to have enough potential students/customers to generate enough cash flow for you to live in the lifestyle you want. You need to know your demographics to be able to make good decisions. You need to know what percentage of the population in your area is even interested in martial arts. You need to know what your competition is, and how many of the potential students in the area are already with them. You can google the information you are looking for or go to sites like this  for general demographics. Be aware that the wealthier and area is the higher the cost of doing business is.  You need to consider both drive-by and walk-by potential customers per day at your location. This impacts how much advertising you will have to do. Are you on the side of the street the sun hits the most, etc. the list goes on.

Another important thing to consider is the square footage for your school. The space will need to have a training area, changing rooms, rest rooms, an office, and enough room near the entry for people to watch class. The larger the space the more expensive it will be, and the higher your budget will be.With that in mind there is a correlation between how much your rent is, and how many students you must have and how much you charge them to run your school in the black. I have seen schools start with only a few hundred feet. I have also seen successful schools with 3000 square foot, and even a few with 5000 square feet or more. If you are starting out on your own without deep pockets, and an existing student base the optimal size seems to be about 1500 square foot, give or take a couple/few hundred. More than 2000 can be a strain on the pocket book until you have built that student base. Large chains that have multiple schools to support the initial financial drain while building a customer/student base may start with 3000-5000 square feet.

As you can see a martial arts school with a store front is a business just like any retail store you enter. You should keep that in mind while considering their sales pitch and buying their products. Shop carefully to ensure you get what you are looking for.


Mike Murphy




October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

I read this translation again and it is by far the best translation I have ever seen of the book on Zimen Boxing (Tzu Men Chuan).

Brennan Translation

by Hu Yisheng
authorized by the Central Martial Arts Institute
[published Mar, 1933]

[translation by Paul Brennan, Oct, 2014]

This book has been sent to the publishers with a couple of extra verses to start it off:

I have written down what I was taught, attentively gathering it all up,
but I feel only that “the more I look up at his teaching, the higher it goes, and the more I drill into his teaching, the harder it gets”. [Lun Yu, 9.11]
I have told it as I have heard it,
so much have I heard that I dare compare myself to Ananda [Buddha’s main disciple].
     The art’s boundless subtle truths provoke interpretations,
and so I have elaborated upon the method, pushed to produce twelve essays.
I am blessed…

View original post 35,645 more words

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Tzu Men Chuan Book

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

I had asked Paul to translate this book a long time ago. It is the book that has been published for many decades on Tzu Men Chuan.  It is still available today. I can’t thank him enough for translating it. If you haven’t been to his site you should visit it. He has translated many treasures and continues to do so.

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Mindset of a McDojo

September 24, 2014 1 comment

This is not an endorsement of “McDojo’s” but is intended to give some insights on how many of them think. I’ve been involved with and seen many different martial arts groups since the 70’s, some more hardcore than others. I first heard the term “McDojo” in the 80’s. While that term is fairly new, the concept of martial artists watering down their training and teachings for the masses, small groups, or individuals in order to make a living is as old as the martial arts themselves. I suspect that anyone or group successfully making a living solely teaching martial arts has some traits associated with a “McDojo” or they could not stay in business.

As a general rule if someone opens a school and is teaching, it is because they believe in what they have and feel it is worth sharing. There are certainly easier ways to make a living.

Some people running a “McDojo” are in denial and don’t know that they are running a “McDojo”. Others not only know so but embrace the idea. I remember being told by the regional director of one group that the head of the organization loved the idea. His thought was that “few people eat at the most expensive restaurant in town, but almost everyone eats at McDonald’s often”. That meant that McDonald’s was serving the needs and helping more people everyday than the finest restaurants were.

There are a lot of things to consider when running a school for a living. First is that in order to keep your doors open so that you can teach anyone, the school has to be profitable. If the school isn’t profitable it will eventually have to close its doors.

A commercial school is a business like any other. You would never go to a store or shop of any kind and think they should provide their goods or services for free. Barbers don’t cut your hair for free, Doctors don’t treat you when you are sick for free, you wouldn’t expect to go to the local health club and workout for free, Schools/colleges certainly don’t teach you unless they make a healthy profit. Yet it is common for people to think that someone teaching martial arts should do so for free or for next to nothing. I think that idea comes from people watching the old tv series Kung Fu, where the hero is a Buddhist Monk with a vow of poverty. Of course that idea is unrealistic if they want to succeed in business.

Understand that anyone that has trained and learned enough to run a school has spent a lot of time money and effort to gain their knowledge and skills. They believe the knowledge, skills, and time put in is of value. Therefore the thought is if someone wants to learn those same things they need make the same commitment and also make that same  investment.

Another thought is that even if they want to run a hardcore school, only about 1 person out of 100 that starts with you ever makes it to black belt in any school. Let alone a hardcore school. In order to be able to train the hardcore students and keep the doors open, they have to have many other students to pay the bills.

The majority of people that take classes are not planning to become world class MMA competitors, or enter the military looking for real life or death combat situations.  Only a small percentage of law enforcement, and security personnel seek martial arts training, because they have guns and tend to attack with overwhelming force and numbers.

The reasons people join a school vary from individual to individual. Some are looking for all the character building and personal growth promised in the advertisements for the various schools. Some are looking at the cultural aspects. Some are looking to be able to develop a level of ability to defend themselves if attacked. Others are looking for basic fitness and want to do something that stimulates their minds and bodies at the same time. They get bored easily doing a repetitive set of exercises day in day out year after year. For that majority a “McDojo” may meet their needs. For others training in a “McDojo/McKwoon” may not only be a waste of time but, could potentially put them at risk should they need their training to save their lives.

So it is important when looking for the right school for you that you be honest with yourself about what you are trying to get out of your training. You need to know your limitations, and the limitations of the school and teacher you choose. Especially if you may have to count on the skills and training you get to defend yourself one day. Be aware that there are many teachers that have only ever trained in a “McDojo”, and never fought. It is easy for these teachers to be delusional about the effectiveness of their training, techniques, and skills. There are others teaching in this same environment that have real fighting experience, realistic skills, and teaching methods. You can even find drastically different approaches and experience levels in the same chain of schools. So you always have to do your due diligence when selecting a school in order to have the best experience for you in your training.


Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Black Belt Tests

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Each system has a different approach to testing. I’m not suggesting that one method is better or more valid than another but, it does demonstrate different mindsets. This is another reason why all Black Belts will never be equal.

My first Black Belt test was for Kodokan Judo, in Japan March 1979. Judo is the first system to use the belt system. Judo was taught in the public school system. In Japan at the time most practitioners attained shodan (1st degree Black Belt) somewhere during High School (if they ever got that far). Kendo, and Karate were also taught in the school system there. My understanding is that students had to choose one of the three to learn. I’m not clear on if it was approached like gym class or being on the football team in school here. Many other students were U.S. military personal stationed there (I was one of those). For each rank from white belt up in Judo you had to learn the basic material and win a minimum of ten matches in official tournaments to be eligible to test for the next rank. Testing was done in large groups at a few authorized locations. Since it was in line with teaching/education they lined people up in groups and went through all the material for the rank. If someone didn’t do things perfectly the first time they were taught/corrected on the spot to get them through the test. It was always a positive experience. Shodan meant that you were now a practitioner of the system, not that you had mastered it.

Many if not the majority of systems taught in the U.S. for decades were brought back from the orient by GI’s that had trained in Japan, Korean, Taiwan, etc.. These being strong men with a military mindset, impacted how they trained and how they perceived and conducted Black Belt tests for their students. Hawaii was a melting pot with lots arts coming in from the orient. You had a large number of GI’s there as well as civilians that needed to be able to defend themselves from people that were not on their best behavior. These systems were tested constantly in the bars and streets, and had to work. This lead to some systems testing as a right of passage designed to take you to your limits physically and mentally. You either came out the other end of the test changed or you failed. You would experience things that reminded you of boot camp during the tests. I remember going home after one test and waiting for a heart attacker that never happened (thankfully). One man I trained with says his first test was that he was taken to a biker bar and had to go in the back room and fight a biker his teacher had set it up with. This was another common testing method in the day. He got his butt kicked the first time (failed the test) and had to go train another year to be brought back to the bar to fight the same guy again.

There are other systems that when your teacher decides you have earned it, he just comes up and presents it to you in class one day with no test.

Today many of the schools have open door tests where friends and family are invited, instead of closed door tests with no witnesses. They are used as marketing and sales events. You will see very well organized, structured events where everyone gets to come up in turn and demonstrate the required skills. There is lots of moral support, with many having lots of applause throughout. It allows the school and students to showcase what is being taught there. It is a great recruitment tool for some schools. 

When considering joining a school you need to know what you are looking for, and what you want out of it. Understanding how they approach testing can give you many insights to help you pick the best school for you.


Mike Murphy


Categories: Concepts & Principles

Black Belt Standards

August 21, 2014 Leave a comment

I was talking with an old student the other day and the topic of why black belts aren’t equal from one system to another. We also talked about if they should be and how would you accomplish that. Anyone that has been around knows that today anyone can hang a shingle and declare himself any rank/title he wants too. This is because you can no longer just go into a school and challenge them, where they would have to put up and win or close down. There are pros and cons to that approach but, I repeat you can’t do that anymore. After all we live in a modern society with laws today. For many running a school, or chain of schools is big business. Could you imagine the owner of the local MacDonald’s marching all his employees over to Burger King and challenging them to a fight where the loser had to close down and leave town? Today the way you close down a competitor and run them out of town is by out selling and out marketing them. Of course it helps if you have a superior product but, that isn’t necessary as long as you out sell them.

Some think that having government regulation will standardize the arts and eliminate frauds. I’m not a believer in that approach. After all when have you ever seen the quality and efficiency of anything go up once the government got involved? Not to mention there would be factions lobbying for control making sure they were calling the shots, making the most money and keeping anyone not in their “good ole boy” club out.

There are several governments in the far east that do have government sponsorship and regulation. This is because after the Meiji restoration in Japan Jigoro Kano created judo to preserve the martial arts and was able to get it taught in the public school system. He later helped Ginchin Funakoshi get Shotokan into the school system. An important note is that these systems were watered down from their true origins so they could be safely taught to children. In 1922 Funakoshi promoted the first Black Belts in Karate. At that time Funakoshi had no rank of any kind. It was 1938 before the Japanese government called for registration and official sanctioning of ranks. Since then there have been many organizations seeking to standardize and control ranking. The founder of Tai Kwon Do had learned karate in Japan while going to college there and bought the idea of belt ranks back to Korea. Today even some Chinese martial arts have adopted the belt system, though not many.

Now days you have different groups forming and awarding each other rank to help promote their business. After all if a prospective student doesn’t know anything about the martial arts and there are two schools to choice from. One instructor is a 1st degree black belt and the other is a 10th degree black belt, it goes without saying the ignorant perspective student will automatically go to the one with the higher rank which is back to marketing and sales.

So how is a student to choose? After all some schools don’t use rank at all. I suggest you need to go watch classes at several schools. Try a class at each school. Ask lots of questions. Do your research into the arts you are considering. Then select the teacher and art that you feel is the best fit for you. Don’t worry about fluff like belts. Belts were designed to help motive elementary students (though they are taken very seriously by some adults). They were also intended to insure that if they are competing in a sport with their peers they are evenly matched. To quote Bruce Lee, “Belts just hold up your Pants”.

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles