We’re back! BLACK BOX FS spring session

We’re back! BLACK BOX FS spring session is coming! This quarter our focus is GRAPPLING: Take downs & maintaining top position. BLACK BOX is the MSMB lab for developing well-rounded cqc skills and testing them in application. Beginning March 21st… Get in touch for more info contact@msmbnyc.com *As always, free for our MSMB comprehensive members.
#msmb #traineveryway #traineveryday #webelieveinlife #blackboxfs #kali #silat #capoeira #boxing #wrestling #grappling #cqc #fightscience #health #wellness #martialarts #selfdefense #womeninpower

Grading Up: Ranks Without Ranking

By Njoli Brown

This present continuous practice is nothing other than just that, just committing oneself to continuous practice for no other reason than to practice continuously.”

Dogen in “Continuous Practice” –
(Translation by Francis Dojun Cook in the book “How To Raise an Ox”)

Most recently MSMB had the opportunity to promote students through the Pekiti Tirsia Kali ranking curriculum in association with PTK Elite.  It has been a pleasure to see their growth as students and to see them undertake and overcome increasing challenges both in training and in life.  Through this process, it had me truly reflecting on the value of rank testing and the importance of doing it well, justly and academically.

24313066_1815938585083611_5796395572561629866_oNow, truth be told, I do hold a lot of more seemingly abstruse elements to be equally as important in the progression of studentship — empathy, mindfulness, dedication, compassion, fortitude, humility, etc.  But here, I’d like to talk about the importance of the skills element of the pedagogy.

This year there was a decision among Elite Family instructors to really drill down and go layer by layer through the rank requirements, specific skills, language, historical knowledge, deemed essential both by our teachers and by us, collectively.  In making these determinations we were looking to do a better job of making sure that , not only were we developing skilled practitioners or doing our part to protect the legacy of our predecessors but that we were giving our students access to mater24302166_10155929671212520_5244908863842982036_oial which, perhaps, none of us have fully deciphered.  Material which could then truly be theirs to explore and investigate.  In the martial practice everyone brings their own personhood and thus unlocks elements only accessible to them, elements revealed through work and diligence.  These are all the spaces between wherein students often teach their instructors.

By utilizing a clear platform for ranking, it also calls on me to continually develop myself and work on my own weaknesses.  It requires me to regularly test myself and delve deeper.  In part because of my own curiosity but, as well, because It would be my greatest fault to leave a student short-changed because of my own incapacity to reconcile with challenges I face in my own study.

Ranking is a funny thing.  It is both objective and subjective simultaneously.  The more esoteric aspects of a teacher’s pedagogy, I’ve put aside for the sake of this exploration but they are easily as essential, particularly if your institution is also concerned with developing teachers, leaders, comrades.  People age, the body becomes ravaged, illness, injuries, we know them all.  But, in this world of martial craft, nothing sabotages the weight of a leader’s presence in the field more then demonstrative ignorance of his/her craft, and nothing empowers a student more than to have strong foundations from which to build investigative inquiry into self and the world.

Questions:

  • How can I judge someone else’s journey?
  • As an instructor, what is the honest status of my “student mind?” 
  • Am I clear about my expectations as an instructor and/or as a student?
  • Do I ask discerning questions for the sake of learning or for proving?
  • How do I evaluate the connection between my internal and external practice?

Earn Your Keep (the follow up…)

By Njoli Brown

Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest.  I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life.  But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep.  I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.

Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach.  Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts.  But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels.  How many of us have seen the result? Too many.

Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc.  Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches.  I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English.  I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.

So, what does that look like.  No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen.  But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort).  Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work.  Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics?  Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique.  Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit.  Local community center… free.  Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.

Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.

Mistakes in the Microcosm

By Njoli Brown

One of the most commonly expressed analogies in capoeira is that it exists as a microcosm of all our experiences and interactions in the larger world.  I’m sure this kind of language is present in other arts and communal environments and I’ve been thinking about this lots over the years, often times a little dubious about where the rhetoric and the actuality intersect.

I think that humans are, as a general rule, social creatures.  Often times they are willing to make huge compromises in order to maintain a sense of connectivity.  Even in those instances where they choose to isolate, I imagine that, many times there is some past or present trauma attached to that decision.   That isolation might be a process for healing or for hiding but it seems to have a very intentional value and purpose.

In order to maintain a  sense of place and value within a community  there  can feel a necessity to do or to be.  I use these terms to indicate the drive toward doing more in order to become more and thus, somehow, elevating the value of the community as a whole.  But with all of this action there have to come missteps, some large and some small, so I think it’s important to discuss the important place that mistakes hold in both the micro and macrocosm. As an experiment, instead of looking at the small and working outward though, as is often the methodology, I’m going to take some lessons from the broader world and apply them inward.

e438892cd491af9c823ec137e759ed16The broad range of research would say that mistakes have inherent value.  They provide new pathways for exploration, generate unexpected and sometimes useful results, act as reference points or catalysts for change and, generally, imply motion of some sort.  In my experiences as an educator in NYC public schools, one of the sentiments I recognize in many of the students I work with is a fear of educational or behavioral “failure.” This fear is often born out of the the resultant reprimands, harsh exclusion, disproportionate disciplinary reactions which occur after mistakes or missteps that are part of the evolutionary journey.  Simultaneously, I know it is a major part of the conversation among educators to determine new and effective ways to address positive discipline while creating a safe holding container for  personal growth.  Saying that a space is safe for mistakes does not make it so.  But if the true investment in that idea is there, then intentional discussions on how to create actionable plans can be had.

Capoeira Angola is particularly interesting to me because it seems to attract social activists, teachers, community organizers and people with an, at least spoken, desire to affect societal change in positive ways.  It truly is a microcosm of a very particular aspect of the world.  It rests itself fairly firmly in liberal thinking in regards to social, environmental and overall political issues.  Even with variations, this holds itself commonly true in most groups of this style throughout the world and, as such, should provide an in common language and platform for discussions on acceptance , forgiveness and change on a very personal level.

I remember a while back, being in a discussion about concepts on friendship.  For my part, I recall saying something to the point of friendship having a relationship to a person seeing you when you have not been your best self and being able to recognize the goodness in you nonetheless.   Now, I’m an optimist.  I do mostly believe that people have some innate childlike purity continually existing within them, no matter how obscured.  I am also a realist.  I understand that mistakes can be painful, to the perpetrator and to the peripheral participants.  An actual supportive and forward thinking community has the difficult dual purpose of safeguarding itself while nurturing its individuals.  But like riding a moving sidewalk in the wrong direction, if a community is not actively problem solving it may as well be actively working toward the perpetuity of broken systems.

Sometimes, language is a dangerous thing.  Perhaps, better said, a powerful thing both, Image result for martial arts philosophy
in its inability to encapsulate all the layers of individual and collective emotional complexity and in its capacity to direct the mind towards concretizing thoughts into actionable aspects. It requires a careful measure when determining the language which codifies a living philosophy and, as a living and organic thing, perhaps the language and the community must continually take opportunities to evaluate whether they are in alignment and, if not, whether compromise or divergence is the most relevant path for evolved being.

It must determine if it places equal value in its ideals as to its practice.  If so, it must work as diligently toward evolving its capacity to make living its philosophies as it does toward physicalizing its corporeal aspects.  It must pursue the resources to make these ideas intelligible and applicable when students misstep and choose alternatively.  They must host forums in which students can realize their connection to these values and in which actions which prove themselves destructive can be processed to restore balance in the community.  Otherwise, the practice should dissociate itself and allow the philosophy to exist parallel if not integrated.

 “Lots of soccer players are Catholic.  But if asked if soccer is a Catholic sport, well I’d say ‘hell no.'” – Anonymous –

Capoeira, in truth martial arts in general, can become so wrapped up in rhetoric that they search and find ways to justify the connection between things even as they actively operate in dichotomy.  In this way, perhaps they are truly microcosms of the world we live in. The art is truly itself, the idea is truly itself and, in fact, it is the instructor or some hierarchical construct which determines that a philosophical foundation, whether historical or contemporary, is a grounding factor for the students’ development and so imbues his/her teachings with said ideology.  Without the critical process of determining alignment, compromise or divergence a martial art school generates a chaotic environment for a finding equilibrium.

 

Training: Why “Comprehensive” and Not “Mixed?”

 

By Njoli Brown

One of the stand out features of the MSMB practice is its dedication to teaching the advantages of a comprehensive training regiment. But what does that mean?

There are a huge number of mixed martial arts schools popping up around the country. Perhaps there are even more academies which house various arts without determining any points of connectivity between them. But for us, there is a distinct importance in being able to put together a practice that is enriching and profound, physically, intellectually and emotionally.

I think, at this point, the physical benefits of martial arts training have been fairly widely accepted. Increased muscle gain, developed reflexes and reaction time, flexibility, mobility, etc. All of these are resultant from intelligent training and continually evolving theories on how best to serve a student’s growth.

img_20161220_122654The importance of a martial practice as an intellectual study is often understated. Educating practitioners on the cultures from which their arts have been born is at times considered an arbitrary aside. But in truth, the cultural and intellectual development is what helps to provide some moral foundation for how we choose to use the often dangerous practice we engage in.  In the most pressured moments we don’t have time to debate with ourselves about our beliefs on violence or conflict resolution.  Instead, one would hope that we’ve spent peaceable moments discussing with our comrades so that in other times we are able to act efficaciously.  Culture and history provide context for these discussions so that we have the opportunity to take advantage of historical precedents.  The culture of an art reminds us that it is based in humanity.  Because of this it is evolving and affected by all the historical boons and faults of the people who carried its legacy along the way.  With a critical mind we can learn from this and apply those lessons when using our art as a foundation for our daily living.

Here we are empowering, but how do we make sure we’re not doing as much harm as help?  It’s easy enough to hand out the tools but making sure that they’re utilized conscientiously… that’s another story.  A lot of instructors talk about “emotional equilibrium,  controlling your anger” and so on and so on.  But aside from the rhetoric, how many are providing the training for that kind of capacity?  As an instructor, investing in your own development as an emotional being is as important (if not more) as any attempts to integrate these ideas into your classes.  Students need to see that dealing with relationships at home, at work, in the world, affect us all and our decisions on how to reconcile our emotions with the situations we encounter are as much a par20161126_105810t of our martial practice as the work we do in the academy.

Being mindful of the fact that all of these elements play an integral part in our MSMB training philosophy allows us to create an environment where people develop their complete selves and explore new pathways to growth and wellness.

Training, Well Rounded

By Njoli Brown

I was recently having a conversation with some other martial arts instructors of various styles.  One of the things that came up was the fact that, for the most part, along with the physical stimulus that training provides, one of the things that’d kept us involved for so long was feeling a sense of richness through involvement with the people and  ideas of another culture.  Now, I don’t want to say that this is or must be an interest for all students.  But for us, in common, it’s been an integral part of our practice and, as such a priority in our instruction.

So how do we convey that to our students?  As importantly, how do we convey that in a way that doesn’t diminish the reasons that each individual has for investing their time and energy into an activity that often has no reward other than that which the participant gleans?

Is it timely?  Sometimes a moment presents itself.  Perhaps a situation occurs, a movement or idea reveals itself and, in this time a historical or cultural reference is the perfect framing feature.  It might give context for a way of doing things or for the evolution of a concept.  It might, as well, give some insight into the mindset of those figures who had, at times, practical reasons for the design of their craft.

Is it enriching?  For many students, having a deeper knowledge of the practice to which they have dedicated themselves gives them a greater sense of purpose.  They come to see themselves as guardians of ideas and, in the most fortunate of instances, as researchers who dispel myths and contribute to  the archive of developmental resources.

Is it relevant?  Class isn’t the time to bloviate about all of your past accomplishments, about the awards you’ve won or the opponents you’ve beaten. Check yourself and, if it isn’t in service of the practice maybe keep it til you’re out having a drink with your buddies.  Remember that your stories and the ideas they convey become part of the culture of your school as well.

Integrating history and culture into the practice of your students takes a real sense of scope and a strong concept of what you hope for your community to embody.  You are shaping values in subtle ways.  It can be tremendously enriching or it can be the “turn-off” that pushes hard training students out the door. Done well, it turns your students into teachers and re-creates the story as a living thing.

Building Community in the Martial Design

By Njoli Brown

It’d be simple enough if it was just about stepping in, training and stepping out. But recently had a conversation with students about the importance of fraternizing. Spoke about how some of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my time both in capoeira and kali were learned outside of class on my mestre’s stoop or over breakfast or building instruments, at my mandala’s favorite hangout or on the beach. Taking the time to connect with your teachers and your comrades reminds them of your investment and of the value you place in their investment in you. It’s where life talk happens and context for all the training gets explored. http://ow.ly/xz2J300ome9 http://ow.ly/i/jwNgS

Viva, Treinel Yehnana!!

A lot of the new heads in Capoeira Angola might not know her name but a lot of the legacy of powerful black women making strides in the game is due to her. I had the good fortune to share space with her during this trip to New Orleans and it came rushing back, the memory of her as a figure who refused to give up her personhood for the sake of hierarchical structures and who represented a powerful womanhood in a game that required an often confusing mixture of boldness and humility. In many ways she embodied and continues to embody the canonical elements of struggle and perseverance that our capoeira songs espouse.

I hope that our young and old angoleiros will come to recognize we don’t have to look so far back to find heroic figures and will look to our peers, at times, to find leadership, guidance and mentoring. For an array of life reasons some of these people are no longer in the roda but they’re always in the “roda.” Viva Yehnana! http://ow.ly/i/jO8j1

Why Train in Winter? Bodyweight Training for the Uninitiated

By Njoli Brown

I had a couple of moments this Christmas morning and, yes, here I am doing a little writing.  Maybe it’s because I know I’m about to go out and eat all kinds of delicious foods and spend some wonderful quality time with friends.  All that being said, I know this day will pass and I will be back to my process of building and developing my martial practice.

Now, none of this is to say I’ve been taking a break from my regular training, but my thought has been that a little extra diligence always has to happen during the winter months if I really want to take things to another level.  It’s the season where rich foods, nog drinks and all the rest bring us comfort.  I speak all this from a place of familiarity because I’m not one of those who was born with the natural gladiator genetics.  I have to work hard and consistently to put myself at high gear.

At the same time as winter draws us psychologically into a state of comforted hibernation, it is also the prime opportunity to make huge leaps and bounds.  As a general rule, spring ends up being a time of recovery and so, by end of summer, we hopefully reach our prime again.  Imagine if we built all the way through winter, and spring and summer were just continuing parts of the evolutionary process.


It may not be the time for your long outdoor runs (depending on where you’re living) but it’s definitely a great time for exploring the wonderful world of body weight training.  I’m not going to pretend to be a personal trainer or to be the go to source for advice but I did want to include some resources that I’ve found.

All of this being said, though, do your own research and know that your goals are out in front of you.  Winter can be a time for steps back or steps forward.  You choose.

Men’s Fitness article on bodyweight exercises

Just a little starter to remind you that the exercises you need in order to start your practice are well within your grasp and don’t require much, if any, equipment or space.

http://www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/back-to-basics-the-best-bodyweight-exercises

The Complete Book of Abs by Kurt Brungardt

This book, along with The Complete Book of Shoulders and Arms, is a veritable bible of exercises.  But alongside that, it sets up a huge glossary of routines for you to scroll through, progressing week by week, month by month.  I know most of us don’t have the coin for our own personal trainer but having someone help you to establish a routine and then bouncing it off your doctor or a fitness professional might just be the first steps towards finding your own discipline.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Book-Abs-Expanded/dp/0375751432

Youtube:  44 Best (Beginner) Bodyweight Exercises Ever!

44 tremendously unpretentious bodyweight exercises.  Maybe you just feel like your exercise vocabulary is lacking or you just know that you’re more of a visual learner.  I found this video online and really enjoyed the fact that there was nothing in this that felt out of reach for the absolute beginner and, at the same time, relevant for adaptation as someone progresses.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEMcHVwzHPA

Fertile Soil For Seeds To Grow

By Njoli Brown

I’ve recently returned from another visit to Seattle.  Pastinha Weekend, an event that the International Capoeira Angola Foundation hosts annually in order to acknowledge our lineage, to reflect on the roles of revolution figures of African descent and to reconnect with our family and friends.  The weekend was beautifully put together and had all the richness and love that I’ve come to expect from these gatherings.  As an educator though, I wanted to reflect a bit on Mestre Silvinho’s standout capacity to create a nurturing environment within which his group seems to have truly flourished.

Mestre Silvinho @ FICA NY, 2013
Mestre Silvinho @ FICA NY, 2013

Holding space as a mestre of Capoeira Angola, as a teacher and as a mentor presents a wide array of challenges and rewards. Profoundly, this person is both, responsible for the maintenance of a centuries old tradition and, simultaneously, must assert the viability of traditional culture in contemporary society.  It isn’t enough for them to deny the existence of the word in which they live but they must also have a critical and evolving vision of how to reconcile the humanity of their community with the society wherein they function.

What make Silvinho’s model so particularly distinct is the feeling of mutual respect that he propagates within his collective.  Not only does he humbly distinguish himself as a remarkably knowledgeable and responsible patriarch, but he so clearly and openly recognizes the strengths and hopes of the members within his group.

That being said, while he provides the trajectory, his group drives its own forward motion.  As a teacher the best example we can often set is in our capacity to allow leadership to disseminate throughout.  True, there is no one else who has the capacity to teach capoeira at the same measure, but their functioning grant writing commission? The healthy foods project? Their regularly organized occasions for fraternization?  The youth projects? All of these are student inspired and driven.

Fertile soil for seeds to grow.  Inspiring to see things come to fruit Northwest.