Home Martial Arts Backyard Dojo & Fitness Training Area – Ninja Style – Part One – The Balance Beam

When I was 15, the televisions show called Eye on LA visited my house to do an interview with me on the martial arts for a spot they were producing on Ninjitsu. They also wanted to see my backyard as I had turned my 2000 square foot garden into a fully fledged ninja training camp. This series of articles is going to tell you what I had in my backyard so you too can create your own martial arts backyard dojo too. Since there have been a lot of developments in the arena of fitness and martial arts gear, you should be able to come up with a more modern version of a training location.

Before I begin.

If you are just beginning to place some items into your yard, garage or large room – do not worry too much about looks at first. Your first priority is performance and training. As you progress, you can focus on improving the look and feel of your workout location. This means that you can start by throwing in some used tires, old weights, or whatever you can find at the dump that can be somehow converted into a training tool. In the beginning, get very creative.

I have not put the items (or tips and ideas) in any particular order and since this is article one of many, you will need to review the other articles for the full scope of what to include.

THE NINJA BALANCE BEAM

I started training on 4×4 wood (covered in duct tape) balance beams in the martial arts as part of a warm up. They are great for improving balance as well as working on your kicks. In my backyard I was lucky as we already had some long wooden poles about 12 feet each. They were being used as a sort of border before the fence that led to a schoolyard. They were similar in size to a 4×4 only they had rounded edges. Because they were meant to look rough, I had to worry about getting splinters. However, they were a welcome addition to my obstacle course.

I have used everything from a fallen coconut tree to a simple block of wood (4×4) from Home Depot. Whatever you use, try to find something that you can walk across in your bare feet. You can raise the beam for more of a challenge or just leave it on the ground as it is.

Here are a few ways to use a balance beam:

Basic training

Simply practice walking across the beam or beams. Then try walking faster or even running across the beams. Finally, close your eyes and try to walk from one end of the beam to the other. This is a lot harder than it sounds.

Slow motion kicks

One simple exercise we use in our camps is for students to perform slow motion kicks (like front kicks) on the beams as they walk across the beam from one end to the other. For example:

Step up onto one end of the beam
Focus first on getting your balance
Perform a front kick step-by-step in slow motion
Take a step forward and repeat the process with the other leg

The above training is simple, but it will drastically improve your balance as well as your kicks. Good kicks to work on are:

The low sweep kick and front kick (easiest as you do not have to pivot the foot as much).
Side kicks and round kicks (harder as you need to move more and maintain balance)

You should be familiar with the coil position, pivot, extension and recoil parts of any kick. The main idea is to perform the kicks slow. It is much harder to throw a kick slow (breaking it into 1 second parts for example) than it is to throw a fast kick. You can also combine the training and perform one at a slow speed, another at medium speed and the final kick at a fast pace. Kicking slow will develop the muscles and parts of the body that create the foundation for powerful kicks. Kicking fast will help you advanced balance (adjusting and regaining balance after a fast movement) and train you for the next exercise – sparring on a balance beam.

King of the beam – sparring

Another fun game with a balance beam (if you have a partner), is to play king of the balance beam and try to knock each other off of the beam. The rules are simple:

Each person gets on one end (opposite each other) of the balance beam
Students then salute or bow to each other officially stating that the match has begun
They then use hands or feet to try and knock the other person off of the beam
The loser is the first person to touch any part of their hand or foot to the ground

This is a popular and fun training drill that students of our long term training camps. We set up basic rules and change them to offer more of a challenge. For example, only using your feet or hands or limiting contact to the face.

We often strategically place safe zones (mats) near the beam that students can jump to in order to create more strategic options and a safe landing zone for those that are able to make it to a padded area.

Also, remember that you might also land on the beam and so this exercise should only be done if you are used to falling and looking for a more challenging training game.

There are a lot of ways to make fun use of a balance beam. Just remember that safety is first and you should start off easy. If your beam is high off the ground and slippery, you could end up with a few broken bones or worse. I have yet to be injured on a beam, but the risk with anything that has height (like riding a horse) is there. Nevertheless, there are some great ways to be safe and here is my favorite:

Puzzle mats for safety

I prefer puzzle / jigsaw style martial arts mats. These are the easiest mats to work with and provide great protection outdoors without taking up space or being too soft. If a mat is too soft, you will risk twisting your ankles etc. These mats can be used alone or together, as they are interlocking mats. You can also flip them over. Because we can just toss them where we need them, they make a great solution for obstacle course and outdoor training. You can walk on them with shoes too. Just be sure that the ground under the mats doesn’t have any sharp rocks or sticks.

However you decide to implement a balance beam, you will have a fun and addictiv

Art and Music Department Budget Cuts – What it Means For Your Child and What You Can Do as a Parent

It is common knowledge that when schools have budget dilemmas the arts are the first casualty.
What is not broadly known is the impact of dismissing art from the lives of our children.
‘Champions of Change, the Impact of the Arts on Learning’ is the most comprehensive study on the subject of students involvement in the fine arts and how it relates to academic success.
The study builds a strong for students achieving higher levels of academic success and in higher overall numbers when involved with fine art.

Per the study;

– 82.6% of 8th graders earned mostly As and Bs who were involved heavily in fine arts versus 67.2% earning A’s and B’s who were not.

– 30.07% of the respondents who participate in fine arts performs community service where only 6.28% of the respondents who do not participate in fine arts perform community service.

– Students who are not heavily involved in fine arts have more than double the chance of dropping out of school by the 10th grade.

– 56.64% of the respondents who participate in fine arts read for pleasure where only 34. Chances are you will a handful of musical instruments in good condition gathering dust in a garage or attic.

These are just some of the findings in the particular study.
Fine arts help teach students far more than how to draw roses in a vase, or how to play the violin.

Fine art helps the creative aspect of your child’s mind grow, instills discipline, provides a sense of pride, self-esteem, and accomplishment.

These attributes not only help students do better academically, but do better in their adult life, with their career, their new family, their emotional well being.

So what do you do if your child’s school has had major cuts in their art program?
Your first option is, of course, private lessons. There are pros and cons that you should be aware of when going this route.

Lets look at the pros first.

First, due to budget cuts and pressure for schools to ensure their students score well on standardized testing (oddly enough the students who are involved in the arts score better on average) the arts get less attention that other subjects in school. Thus the lesson quality is diluted. Meaning your child has an excellent chance of getting better fine art instruction in a professional fine art instruction environment. The classes are smaller, sometimes even one on one. The instructor only has to teach that particular art form.

The other pro to going outside of your school for fine art education is that your child’s success is intimately tied into the instructors income.

A public school teacher who has half of their art class receive failing grades will still be paid the same at the end of the week. The equivalent in the private art instruction world would mean a bankrupt business in a very short order. Providing private art classes is a business. They must produce a good product or risk not being around in the future.

The major con to private lessons is of course if you cannot afford them for your child.
Private lessons cost money. Knowing the benefits of a child being educated in the fine arts, I would happily drive a less luxurious car, or eat out less often to ensure their fine art education.
However this may not be an option if, say you are a single parent, and there is too much month left after the end of your money.

To wrap up this point, private lessons are great, often better than what is provided even in schools that have ample art and music budgets.

An alternative solution may be needed if you you are on a limited budget.

There are things that you can do to help your local school raise money for their art programs.
First and foremost is fund raising. You can go about this many ways. For example in my high school in Burbank California a parent spoke to executives at NBC studios. Two months later NBC donated professional video and editing equipment to our school. Everything for the fine art of film making was at our school.

It may take a bit of creative thinking and a lot of leg work, but your local businesses or local celebrities could be a fantastic funding source for your school. In return they get good PR.
Of course you have the traditional events to raise funds. A car wash, garage sales, silent auctions, etc. The real make break point for the above types of fund raisers is having the right person in-charge to ensure that all the details are taken care of and everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing. If no one shows up to the car wash because no one knew about it, it won’t do anyone much good. Nor will the dozen cookies at the bake sale.
Organize and communicate.

I know a good amount of people. More pertinently I know people who know more people than I could ever hope to know. When confronted with the difficult task of refitting your schools classical music program with instruments, it can seem overwhelming.
However when you have a network of hundreds of concerned people it looks more like this.
An email/phone call/mailer goes to your network about the problem.