A Houston School that's not for wimps!
There was once a time when you could easily recognize a quality martial arts school by just watching all the students spar. I'm a believer that sparring says alot about how a student might handle themself in the street. Now days, most schools water-down what they teach, and the sparring looks bad. Sadly, many schools will label someone a 1st degree black belt, whose sparring skills look no better than a blue or green belt from a quality school. Even worse, many schools either do very little sparring, or have eliminated techniques in their sparring you should do in the street, specifically, forbidding light or controlled shots to the head during sparring. Haven't the instructors who eliminate that heard the expression "how you train is how it will come out in the street"? Don't they care about their students success in the street? I say if you've never practiced your hand techniques to someone's head, what are you basing your chances of landing a shot there, especially against a dynamically moving opponent in the street?
Nearly gone seem to be the days of a few bumps, bruises, clanging of shins, getting the wind knocked out of you, possible cracked or separated ribs, even an occassional bloody nose or lip, or black eye. I fear for the people who train in environments that have completely sterilized their sparring, by removing all those possiblities. Why? Because if you remove all possiblities of a little pain, what's going to happen in-the-street the first time a student feels either a little or alot of that? Will the student freak-out about it and freeze, pause or shutdown, leading to him getting pummeled? Just last week, one of my guys got a bloody nose and another one a black eye. Both must've been alright, because neither told me about it til a day or two later, they sucked-it-up, and didn't even stop when it happened. That to me is a warrior spirit, yet something I think is lacking today in most martial arts schools, except for a school in Houston I visited about a month ago!
I was in Houston for business in early October, had a little extra time between appointments, so I stopped by a school I'd heard of just to say "hello". Next thing I know I'm having a nice long conversation with the schools owner, a great impromptu lunch with him and one of his instructors, additional wonderful conversation, and I was invited that night to come watch their small in-school tournament.
The invitation to their tournament that evening was nice, but I wasn't sure that I was going to make it back that way, yet somehow I did.
Upon walking in the door, Grandmaster Larry Ritchie saw me and directed me to sit over by Grandmaster Richard Jenkins. What an honor that was! This led to some great conversation with Grandmaster Jenkins, while Grandmaster Ritchie directed the tournament.
Up to this point, I was very impressed by how friendly and kind Grandmaster Ritchie, Grandmaster Jenkins, and the schools other instructors, were towards me. However, what I was invited to watch that evening was even more impressive!
The performance that each of the 70 or so students gave that evening was the icing on the cake to what had been up to that point a great day of making new friends! Every student had excellent technique and all of them sparred with the heart of a lion. Each also moved very fast for their rank, and I was glad to see that shots TO THE HEAD were allowed. This group of students had great timing and countering skills too! If someone got too close with a less than perfectly timed technique, out came sidekicks, ridgehands, and reverse punches that told their opponent "you'll pay if you try that again". It was a very aggressive sparring environment, just like I try to run in my school! Amazingly, none of the students backed-down during sparring, especially when they would occassionally get nailed with shots from their opponents! I saw sidekicks landing into ribs and torsos (without rib or chest protectors) that would've likely had those from weaker schools quitting and never returning! This was wonderful "old school" sparring, something I've always felt was the right way to train someone to be street proficient, and the way we try too in our school, yet something that has almost completely disappeared around here! Now days, its McDojo-type national franchises, that have in my opinion watered-down what it takes to create a true black belt, requiring too much body armor while forbidding ANY SHOTS to the head.
Conclusion, the reputation I'd heard about this school prior to visiting was indeed accurate, they train their students to be real warriors, but such is to be expected from any J. Pat Burleson instructor, especially one he made a Grandmaster! If you're in the Houston area and thinking about a school to join, or tired of not getting a real workout at the one you're currently with down there, I highly recommend you check these guys out, especially if you're looking for a quality kick-punch, karate program.
Here's their contact info:
Grandmaster Larry Ritchie
American Black Belt Academy
4978 Hwy. 6 North, Suite A
Houston, Texas 77084
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