I recently had the chance to talk with an inspiring martial artist and human being, Mr. Finn Ryan.
Mr. Ryan holds a black belt from Mile High Karate and a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu from Jubera Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Denver, Colorado.
Where did you get your start in martial arts?
I officially got my start when I was 15 years old. That was at Mile High Karate in Westminster, Colorado.
“Officially” got your start? Had you been around martial arts before that?
Martial arts had been around in my life for a long time. My grandfather was a huge Bruce Lee fan, used to show me his movies. [Grandpa] liked to do little moves, little joint locks on me when I was three, four years old.
How has your formal martial arts training transformed your life?
I’ve made a total 180 since I started.
Can you explain that?
I used to be very skinny, weak. Those are physical characteristics and they’re fine. But I wasn’t doing anything with what I had.
What do you mean?
I was unmotivated to do anything, really. I didn’t want to improve or excel, didn’t want to get stronger. My karate instruction really let me flourish.
The experience in karate gave me the opportunity to be great. I felt like I could be great at this. Not just great physically, but academically as well. My schoolwork improved, my whole trajectory changed. Reading books and being tested on that book learning was huge for me.
What books do you study?
Some of my favorite books are The Art of War by Sun Tzu, the Tao of Jeet Kun Do by Bruce Lee. “Your mentality is your reality.” That’s one of my favorite quotes.
How did you get started in tricking?
I actually started tricking before I’d even trained in martial arts. Me and a friend looked up ‘best flips in the world’ on YouTube. I was hooked. I signed up for karate in large part because I thought it would help my tricking [laughs].
What are some of your favorite tricking moves?
Sailor Moon, for sure. The Double B Twist is my absolute favorite.
What’s the function of momentum in tricking? How do you use momentum?
Momentum is evident in everything we do in life. In tricking we use a lot of moves to influence and improve others.
Simple moves build momentum, and that momentum generates the energy you need to blast into the move that everyone remembers. Everything’s connected through energy.
Maybe that’s a bigger metaphor for life.
Who are some of your heroes in martial arts?
Goku [from Dragonball Z], Bruce Lee, stuntmen like Daniel Graham, Jeremy Marinas.
Beyond your taekwondo background, what martial arts do you practice?
I’ve studied Brazilian jiu jitsu for the past three years. I also practice muay Thai.
Jiu jitsu’s a ground game. Tricking’s aerial. How do the disciplines combine?
They’re two sides of the same coin. Tricking has fundamental moves that you use in fighting. Jiu jitsu is all about fundamentals, practical moves on the ground [that are] good for fighting.
There’s creativity in jiu jitsu, flying triangles, for example, or tomoe nages, as long as it serves the practicality. Then there’s practicality in tricking, as long as it serves the creativity.
How young can you be to start tricking?
You can pick it up at any age. Kids of any walking age, to adults, as long as you can move. The duality of it is that the younger are more flexible but less powerful. The more mature students may be stronger. Whatever gifts you have you can put to use.
What motivates you to keep training in tricking, jiu jitsu, taekwondo?
The possibilities. There’s always someone better, something more to learn.
Master Macy likes to say “Teach once, learn twice.” What does this mean?
You’re a red belt in a green belt class, up front, guiding a group of students through Do San. You’ve tested on Do San. You’ve performed it, perhaps, a hundred times. But up in front of the class with two dozen fresh green belts (no pun intended) staring at you, their bodies empty vessels eager to absorb your sage instruction, you might be apt to freeze up. To forget a move or sequence. To not recall the form you’ve been taught and drilled when you yourself are called upon to teach and drill it.
Hence, under the pressure of trying to teach you force yourself to learn “twice as much” about something you already thought you knew back and forth.
In the same vein, the mantra behind Tuhon Apolo Ladra’s iKali program is “Learn to Teach, Teach to Learn.” And one of Tuhon Ladra’s students, Dominick Blum, demonstrates this concept in full dimension.
Dominick holds the title of Guro under Tuhon Ladra, and has traveled the world to enhance his practice and knowledge of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. Dom’s also a 4th-degree black belt in tae kwon do and the owner of Evolution Martial Arts in Denver, Colorado.
I first met Dom in the spring of 2017 when he arrived with Tuhon Ladra at Ripple Effect Fort Collins for a pre-seminar before the Black Belt Immersion that year. His impact on students as he taught directly reflected his learning from Tuhon. Dom acted as an authority invested in learning. Students caught on.
I can speak to this directly, as a year later Dominick taught me the iKali “open series” of double baston strikes on a crowded floor of black belt students who had already mastered it. He was patient, exact, helpful as I fumbled through the strikes and chambers. And though we didn’t discuss it, I can guarantee that he learned some nuances of the techniques in the act of teaching them in detail to me.
Ripple Effect students from beginner to advanced can learn directly from Dom at the upcoming Kali seminars in Johnstown Saturday, February 16. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from a student of a master.
Well, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. But the article gives example after example of sound investigations into the benefits of martial arts on the behavior and the minds of students of all ages. This (of course) includes the most impressionable ages. For example:
One study took a group of 8 to 11 year old students and taught them self-defense skills as part of an anti-bullying program. Apart from the takedowns and (figurative) disarms, the students were also taught character development lessons, the fundamentals of self-confidence, and “how to maintain self-control in heated situations.”
What resulted? Researchers found that. after just several weeks of karate training, the boys* in the study were far less likely to react aggressively toward bullies and far more likely to step up when someone else was being bullied.
Senior Master Greg Moody has conducted independent research on the correlation between martial arts training and bullying, specifically the relative impact of earning a black belt, in any discipline, and reducing incidences of bullying. Basically, if you earn a black belt from a reputable school, you’ve developed the capacity to not only withstand but actively repel bullies.
It isn’t mystical. There’s nothing even mysterious about it. Martial arts training ( see the article!) hones focus, specifically in the areas of AT (Attention Training) and AST (Attention State Training).
Attention Training relates to perfecting a specific skill; throwing punches or blocking strikes, for example. Triggering reflex actions.
Attention State Training puts practitioners into a state of increased alertness, which has benefits in the lives of everyone from toddlers to seniors. Would you like to sharpen your sense while:
Talking with other people
Moving through a dark parking lot
Navigating the middle school hallways
Focusing on SAT questions
Giving a speech
Anyone who’s trained (or parented a child in training) has experienced (or witnessed) this sharpening of the senses, this advanced alertness as a result of dedicated progression in the martial arts.
Here we hold you to it. Good luck this Stripe Week and best wishes for your upcoming test for your next belt. As you advance, know, objectively, that there’s a growing body of evidence that martial arts advances the mind as well as the body.
But you know that already. Never quit.
*The researchers noted that while the impacts of training for girls were less pronounced, this was likely due to the fact that girls (in this study, at least) were less inclined to exhibit aggressive behavior in the first place.
Depending on how long you’ve been training, you may have had a brush with 9th-degree Black Belt Grandmaster Stephen Oliver. At a Black Belt Spectacular, a Black Belt Immersion event, a belt promotion or leadership seminar (not to mention on the covers of major martial arts mags).
His influence is virtually everywhere, and as a Ripple Effect martial artist, he’s impacted you, whether you know it or not. Here’s how.
Grandmaster Oliver is best known throughout the Ripple Effect community as the instructor of our master instructor, Master Greg Macy. He’s more widely known throughout the martial arts industry as the founder of Mile High Karate and guru to school owners around the world. Martial arts magazines over the past three decades have dubbed him the “Mile High Maverick,” a reference to his revolutionary approach to launching and running a successful martial arts franchise.
There’s a magnitude to Grandmaster Oliver’s contributions to the martial arts that goes far beyond his legendary jump sidekicks, and it’s a model of leadership.
John Maxwell’s “Law of Explosive Growth” says that “to grow, lead followers; to multiply, lead leaders.” Think about this.
If Grandmaster Oliver hadn’t spread the good word about karate, hadn’t taught his skills to curious young students, hadn’t trained them to be instructors, hadn’t set up a booth in that Lakewood movie theater where an 8-year-old Greg Macy was walking out from The Karate Kid, you wouldn’t be reading this. You wouldn’t be at Ripple Effect Martial Arts, studying leadership and training for your next belt alongside hundreds of fellow students. It was Grandmaster Oliver’s vision and example that set the stage.
Of course, Grandmaster Oliver inspires in more immediate ways. He’s sparred with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. He learned directly from the Titans of Tae Kwon Do, Grandmasters Jeff Smith and Jhoon Rhee. He also reads Shakespeare and is a fan of Neil Peart (a virtuoso drummer whose discipline, art and inspiration equates to grandmaster levels).
Grandmaster Oliver will be teaching up in Estes Park for the Black Belt Summit this weekend. Make the trip up and tap into some inspiration from a proven leader.
Master Macy (then a 4th-degree) underwent the trials of a three-day, no-rest test event alongside a hundred other testers of various ranks. All the pushups, all the hours, all the miles afoot, shoulder to shoulder with seasoned Black Belts, many of them his own students back in the day.
John C. Maxwell’s “Law of the Picture” couldn’t have been more evident in this. As a martial artist you saw, right before your eyes, what you want to become.
We’re used to seeing instructors as an authority. Walk in the door to the schools, and your eyes are drawn as if by magnets to the senior instructors. They’ve earned your respect. Your awe. Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am. What they say goes.
But when it’s their turn to test you see they’re humble students too of the martial arts. Striving to progress, to learn more, so they can teach you more.
Instructors exist to put students through the mill: forms forms forms, combos combos combos, sparring, thinking, push push push.
Come up to Estes Park for the Black Belt Summit to see how Mr. Robinson, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Garcia and Ms. Garcia–all testing for 4th-degree–embody Black Belt.
Last month about 60 Black Belts from Ripple Effect Martial Arts and Mile High Karate gathered in Johnstown, Colorado for a Black Belt Progress test. It lasted about four hours. Sparring, forms, exercises. Sweat. Sweat. Sweat. Horse stance till your thighs give out. Push ups till you feel like you’ve got a roadway on your back.
Why? Isn’t life after Black Belt all gravy and cream?
Some people come into martial arts thinking “Black Belt’s the goal.” And it is. As an initiating student, this is the attitude you’re geared to have. At first.
There’s also the big beyond. After all, what are you going to do with this? What’ll you bring from your Black Belt training to make the world better?
If you’ve earned your Black Belt, you’ve gotten stronger. You’ve committed to increasing your strength, your knowledge, in all kinds of ways. You’ve committed to teaching others, to giving back.
That’s what Black Belt progress means. It ain’t the status quo. It isn’t stationary, passive. Testers can tell you that.
The Black Belt Summit in Estes Park takes place October 5-7. It’s a test not only for prospective Black Belts but for martial artists, instructors, parents who earned their Black Belts years ago, and have chosen to continue in training. This includes Mr. Robinson (testing for 4th degree), Mr. Hunter (testing for 4th degree), and (perhaps) some surprises.
Whether you send your kids to public school, private school, or an internationally renowned boarding school, you’re paying (with your taxes or your wallet) for something beyond reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.
You’re paying for the values, the associations, the wisdom that’ll give your kid the experience and skills to succeed in whatever line of work and life he or she takes on.
In a martial arts context, when you think about it, nobody pays money to learn punches and kicks, to strike a pad, to do esoteric forms and stances across a mat. You can hit a horse stance and throw a hundred punches in your garage. In your living room. Just crank up the YouTube and follow along.
Private practice is part of Black Belt training. But it’s not the whole.
The value of investing in a Black Belt program, for an adult or youth or even a toddler, is to develop principles of discipline, strength, achievement, commitment. Winning. Growth. You can lose in a punch-and-kick contest, no matter how good you are. You can’t lose if you’ve absorbed these traits after years of training alongside other students who aspire to Black Belt excellence.
From white belt to Black Belt, that’s what we aim to do. Skills and technique will always vary. Commitment to excellence won’t.
St. Mark’s aims to prepare [students] for leadership and responsibility in a competitive and changing world. [Our] values include the discipline of postponing immediate gratification in the interest of earning eventual, hard-won satisfaction; the responsibility of defending one’s own ideas, of respecting the views of others, and of accepting the consequences for one’s own actions; and an appreciation for the lively connection between knowledge and responsibility, privilege and the obligation to serve.
That has a little denser word count (no offense) than the Ripple Effect student creeds, but the aim is the same: Produce, though a highly refined system of education, the strongest, most confident, roundly educated people possible.
It’s not about the data points, the little bits of knowledge. In martial arts, the investment goes to the instruction in life and leadership skills, taught by instructors who have earned their marks and position through the same curriculum.
That’s what Black Belt creates. Opportunity. And there’s no price on that.
It’s a little hard to believe that today, August 20, marks five years—the “Wood” anniversary—of Ripple Effect Martial Arts.
We’ve gone from one school to three. We’re about to test our first crop of Black Belts for second degree. And we welcome more and more new students ready to earn their white belts, ready to start their journey to Black Belt, every day.
Along the way there’s been lots of action outside the school. School supply drives. Donations to soldiers overseas. Hurricane relief. Clean up of natural areas right in our backyard.
All fueled by the Ripple Effect family.
This isn’t just a mile marker. This is organic growth. And it wouldn’t be possible without the devotion, discipline and dedication of a community of martial artists.
Ripple Effect students leave the world a little cleaner.If you’re reading this, you’re on the team. Doesn’t matter if you joined up yesterday or five years back (I’m looking at you, J. and G. Wade). We’re always learning, always growing. As martial artists and as members of communities across northern Colorado.
Every time you test, every time you progress toward your next goal, you expand your possibilities. You help us grow, and we grow to help you. Thank you.
Board breaks are a pretty fitting metaphor for a five-year anniversary, traditionally symbolized by wood. Engrained training. Knotting your belt. (Mr. Wagoner could help me out with a ton more puns….)
Our sincerest thanks go out to the staff, students, instructors and families that make Ripple Effect Martial Arts what we are.
Today I ran into a college professor slash Dad I know on a walk around the neighborhood. He has a daughter heading to middle school this month. I do too.
“How’s [Deborah] feel about heading back to school?” I said.
“She can’t wait,” he said. “She went today with Mom to get all her school supplies.”
Now i’m not exactly a procrastinator. But I’m generally not weeks (or months) ahead of the game, either. I often like to think (and act) on the fly.
“You’ve already got all your school shopping done?” I said.
“Yeah,” said the professor. “We like staying ahead of the game.”
Black Belts know how to guide because they’ve prepared.
It got me thinking. In martial arts, the instructors who teach the curriculum and the master instructors who design it have to be weeks, months, years ahead of the game. They see your potential for Black Belt during your first white belt class. And they have that vision because they’ve prepared the four-year course they’re about to take you on.
They’ve been through it themselves. They know you’ve gotta have what you need when you come into class, from a clean mat to the right number of pads and jump ropes to the advancement of combinations and forms that calcify the martial arts disciplines in your flesh and bones.
Pencils, pens, paper supplies, packed and ready to go for that first trip down the middle school hallway. Weeks in advance. Combinations and forms, sidekicks and pushups, prepared and confident weeks before your next belt test.
Coaches, don’t you want the same for you kids as they get back into school? I do, and I’m gonna start by getting into more karate classes with my daughters before the fall semester commences.