Basic Truths of Martial Arts Training

written by Diana Rathborne


Working, and/or working out in a gym, is always interesting. There are lots of different people sharing the same environment over long periods of time. A martial arts school is an even more interesting place to be – especially for a woman. For the female martial arts instructor, it can be even more so.

I walked in the door of Rick Faye’s school (the MN Kali Group) with no martial arts background, and no contact experience. Most of the girls that I know didn’t grow up fighting with their friends or school mates at recess or after school. Most didn’t watch boxing or martial arts movies. As a result, like many women, I had no frame of reference for the information I was learning. For the information to make sense to me, I had to make it really simple and logical. I have been lucky enough to learn from great martial artists, such as Sifu Rick Faye, Guro Dan Inosanto, Master Chai Sirisute, Sensei Erik Paulson, Professors Machado, Guro Rick Young, and many, many others. Below are some tidbits that I’ve gleaned from my instructors, training partners, classmates and students on a few of the basics of interpersonal dynamics and personal development as they apply inside the gym, and possibly outside of it as well.

Martial Arts Realisms

  1. Where the head goes, the body will follow. A pony tail, hooded sweatshirt, and jewelry all make great handles.
  2. If your head isn’t working, neither are you. Protect your head at all times.
  3. Never trust your holder.
  4. Never trust your kicker.
  5. Keep your eyes open. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not going to hit you.
  6. Keep your mouth shut. Biting your tongue is not just a metaphor.
  7. There’s nothing about “eye poke” that doesn’t work.
  8. Everytime you get hit, learn something, especially if the person who hit you is you.
  9. Size matters. So does attitude, intensity and ingenuity.
  10. The stronger you are, the harder you will hit. Always work on the big 3: speed, strength and endurance.
  11. Hydration: sweat is good. More sweat is better. Water is your friend.
  12. Don’t judge someone’s ability by his appearance.

For the Advanced Students and Instructors

  1. Everyone walks in the door of a martial arts school for reasons of self-improvement. People stay for a vast array of reasons. Someone else’s reason may not be the same as yours.
  2. The more women in your classes, the more men you’ll have in your classes, and the more people you can impact with the art.
  3. Help out the beginners. They are the future of the art.
  4. Don’t hit the beginners. While it is fun and easy, they are the future of your art.
  5. Don’t hit on the beginners. Wait at least a couple of weeks (kidding). They may need the training more than you need a date.
  6. Don’t let your students/instructors stare at the beginning women students (no matter what they are wearing).
  7. Don’t partner your new good-looking students with known lecherous students.
  8. Don’t partner your new small students with really big students, or students training for a fight. They’ll leave feeling beaten, and most often won’t come back.
  9. Men new to grappling are just as freaked out by having to grapple with a woman as new women are by having to grapple with a man.
  10. If you have new women in the class, keep the grappling to a bare minimum, unless it’s a grappling class, and train the triangle choke from the guard on another day.
  11. Breathe. Green, grey, splotchy and ash white are not colorings you are aiming for. If you see these colors on your training partner or your students, make them slow down before they pass out, keel over, or throw up.
  12. Be nice to the really weird people. You may be someone else’s really weird person.


  1. Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene: soap, toothpaste and deodorant are essentials to training.
  2. If someone says you smell, you probably do, and not just on the day they mention it.
  3. If you inadvertently hit your partner in the groin, get out of range and keep moving until he isn’t mad anymore.
  4. Scratching your partner is a bad thing. Trim your nails and wash under them.
  5. Bleeding on someone is bad form. Cover your blisters, etc., before you start training.
  6. Wear underwear….please! Going commando may be comfortable for you, but the view certainly isn’t for those around you.
  7. Running shorts are not good for grappling or Thai boxing. Your personal parts will not stay enclosed in the clothing.
  8. A halter top is not good for grappling or Thai boxing. (See above.)
  9. Don’t squish your partner in grappling just because you can.
  10. Storage of sweaty clothes in the trunk of your car should make them ineligible for the next training session. In a moist, dark environment, they grow their own special odors.
  11. Wash your hand wraps and throw your gloves away when they smell.
  12. Don’t make anyone else wash your blood off the heavy bag, floor, Thai pads, focus mitts, mat, etc.

Life Lessons

  1. The term “Princess” is:
    1. gender neutral.
    2. does not mean you will look good wearing a crown and sitting on a throne. Expanding your comfort zone is a benefit of the training. It is not an evil plot on the part of your teacher or training partner to see how you look when you are uncomfortable.
  2. Don’t quit unless you are injured, and don’t let anyone else cause you to quit.
  3. Don’t quit because you are frustrated. Find a different aspect of the art, or your motion, to focus on and develop.
  4. Anything you set your mind to do you can do.
  5. Each of us has a different and unique body, which has different and unique attributes. Just because you want someone else’s attributes doesn’t mean you’re going to get them. It’s your job to develop the ones you were given.
  6. Don’t compare yourself to those around you. You’ll either be way better or way worse in your analysis, neither of which is true, and neither has any bearing on your own development.
  7. You can learn from anyone if you keep an open mind. The answers will come from a variety of people, styles, systems and cultures.
  8. Your way is not necessarily the best way, and is definitely not the only way.
  9. You will change through the training. Make sure it is in a positive direction.
  10. Unless you absolutely have to (or have chosen to in a sanctioned format) don’t hit anyone outside of the gym.
  11. Anyone can do this art if he puts his mind and body into it. Don’t quit, don’t whine, leave your ego at the door and get to work.
  12. The body talks. Let how you move speak for you. Regardless of your body and the package you’ve got, you have to establish your own credibility. Once this is done, move on; it’s done. Everyone has the same hurdles to overcome: too skinny, too heavy, too weak, the wrong gender, too old, from a different ethnic/cultural background, physically, mentally or learning disabled, too big, too small, too tall, too short, the list goes on. Don’t let your issues get in the way; they are irrelevant to everyone but you.
  13. Have fun. This is a great way to keep learning and developing!

We are all going to move differently, think differently, and impact others differently. That is the beauty of JKD. As men and women in the martial arts, we are all part of a wonderful experience that encompasses self-defense, health, fitness, physical, mental and spiritual development and cultural enrichment, as well as intellectual and spiritual growth. We have the tremendous opportunity to improve ourselves and those around us, both in and out of the martial arts environment. The people with whom we come into contact will enhance this experience and make us and our art better for it.