Fire Jumping at Rick Tew's Thailand

Do You Have the Martial ART Spirit?

How to have fun in the martial arts and still get great training.

In Thailand, they have a word for fun. It is called Sanuk. And if you want to ask if someone is having fun you say, “Sanuk mai?”      

There is even a new relaxed shoe company called Sanuk, named after the Thai word.       

Not too long ago in Bangkok, I remember planning to have a short class in the famous Lumpini park and one of the students from our Total Warrior – Junior Instructors Program (for students 16 to 19) asked if he could wear his tabi shoes (split toed footwear made popular in Ninja films and worn as part of the uniform of a uniformed ninja – or practitioner of modern ninjutsu when training outside and as an optional alternative to going barefoot – because the combination of Nike and martial art uniforms is a fashion faux pas).  

Dressed to impress at Rick Tew's NinjaGym Martial Arts Camp

At first I laughed a bit at his enthusiasm. He was genuinely excited about wearing his tabi shoes. I said, “Yes” thinking he meant at the park itself. I didn’t realize he would actually wear them from the dojo all the way to the park (a journey consisting of about 30 minutes of walking, bus rides, a sky train and pit stops at the mall on the hunt for fresh guava juice).

Another student (in his late 20’s) commented, “Don’t you know the new modern ninja footwear are Vibram’s Five Fingers shoes?” This shoe I introduced to him over the summer in California at our 10 day camp and wrote about on as an article post here: Vibram FiveFingers: Put on Your Five Fingered Shoes  


They both ended up wearing their shoes on our adventure that day. One looked like a gorilla and the other a chicken. Even though I had both the tabi and a pair of Five Fingers shoes in my closet, I opted to go with sandals (the typical farang / foreigner footwear of Thailand). I still prefer going barefoot and not wanting to add to the foot zoo and become a trio of humor, I decided to just kick off my leg trippers (if you’ve walked with me you will know I can be rather clumsy in sandals) when we reached the ultimate surface for martial arts training – GRASS.

I remember the days when I used to wear my tabi with pride and on all of my adventures. I wore them to Boy Scout hikes and endured the smiles and laughs as I marched through Mexico with fellow warriors of ninja wear to the human chorus of, “Chicken feet, chicken feet.”      

But, I was proud and here I am looking at a young wanna-be-ninja (after all these years I am too) excited at the chance to play Ninja. To wear crazy looking boots, throw stars, practice stealthing (make that a real word already) and even dress up as a Ninja and putting on the mask and gauntlets for photos or night training.  


For those that know me and the system of the martial science – they know that we train and practice realistic self-defense and martial arts. This isn’t a, “Can I call my mommy on the telephone” type of program.

Refer to my article title “The Martial and the Art” for more details.      

When your focus is on the martial or military part of the program, it is easy to forget why many of us got into the arts in the first place – which was TO HAVE FUN.      

Sanuk Mai (having fun?)      

It is sad that in all the hype for realistic combat training, effective self-defense or even cage style fighting, that we forget that really we just want to have fun and feel good about our training.      

I often get asked by students why I wear a blue uniform when I look better in Black. It’s for fun on many levels. First, I just enjoy saying, Sensei Tew wears blue. Yes, I often wear black too, but I decided to not take life or the martial arts TOO seriously. I think this has a lot to do with not taking yourself TEW seriously either. That isn’t easy when the world is always judging and 90% of the people around you are negative critics.   

Rick Tew's NinjaGym Obstacle Course Rope Climb

Trust me; you will not make it out alive. You might as well have a little fun along your path of discipline. NO, it can’t all be fun and YES I believe in a good balance of the two. I am Rick in class (more strict fun when the students are giving 100%) and Ricky out of class (less stress, mostly smiles and serious when called to action). It’s a split personality that I take into almost everything I do.

Yes, there are times when people will want to make fun of you (most are just jealous that they don’t have the courage to dance in the street) and it might be a challenge to realize that everything isn’t about how well you can punch or kick.      

In this world of star lovers, magazine models and bowing down the popular and wealthy, you are seen as an idiot when you are just beginning and suddenly converted almost overnight to a genius when you succeed at being an idiot. Ironic isn’t it?   


Think about fashion shows that you see on TV all the time. Do people actually wear that stuff? These designers are world famous, but if they showed those outfits that look like something from outer space to anyone outside of the field of a fashion show – they would be seen as complete morons. But by being themselves and finding a niche market they can thrive. What’s your passion?

When I eventually told family and friends that I planned to teach martial arts for a living. It truly came off as a joke. I think for my parents it was more about fear of my future. Seriously, who can make a living as martial artist? It didn’t seem like a realistic choice when there are more secure ways to live your life – like becoming an employee for a large company. I stuck to my guns and this choice has not only been my continued education, it has helped me to create my own world, live by my own designs, and work in a field that I have chosen.      

Doing this is not for the lazy or weak. It takes a lot of backbone to make your mark on the world. Why, because you must be strong on the bad days as much as you are on the good days. It’s a roller coaster ride and when you are up, hands are in the air everyone is screaming and you feel like you are on top of the world, but when you go down, you begin to fear, you might throw up a bit and everyone around you is worried about themselves and not you. People cheer when you’re up and they kick you when you are down. This is why it’s up to only YOU to make it happen and along the way you will find others that help to make this dream a reality.      

I’m not saying you should be the next NAME OF THE ASIAN ON AMERICAN IDOL who did horrible but became very popular, or the next Leroy Jenkins (for those that play World of Warcraft) who ran into a virtual dungeon and whipped the entire group. Leroy is now known by more the 20 Million people. Those actions today will earn you NO respect.      

Being an idiot has to be a little more personal and with the attempt at creating a unique POSITIVE style to add value and not just to interrupt the process.  


This means that if you want to use the nunchaku and you accidentally hit yourself in the head, GREAT. Say, “Woo Hoo,” call yourself an idiot if you want, laugh it off and move on. It does not mean you should jump into your living room with a pair of swinging stick and Bruce Lee to death your flat screen TV just for a YouTube buzz. I broke the glass in front of our fireplace at 14 with a throwing star while pretending to be a Ninja, so I speak from experience.

We all have bloopers from trying new things. I have a quite a big list. Everything from crashing the first motorcycle I’ve ever ridden through the fence of my friend’s neighbor’s house to being stabbed in front of a live audience with a real knife.      

Some of the smarter pick-up artists have realized that this is actually a good strategy for meeting women. They call it peacocking and part of the strategy is to wear something that gets people to look at you and ask questions or to remember you. I prefer that you wear what you want because you want to (be it a silly hat, a scarf in the summer, or a pink suit) and not just because you want some feminine attention. The stronger male will find his inner game and use that with success. I am telling you to do what you want because it is fun for you. Not to get a tattoo because others might think it’s cool. But if you have always dreamed of a having a dragon inked across your back (and you are at least 25, LOL) then go for it.   


In my observations as a martial arts instructor and coach, it seems that the tough guys are actually the most limited. I feel that the reason so many people focus only on the limited aspects of the martial arts is that they themselves are not good enough for the rest of it and fear taking on the challenge to improve their game. This and they don’t want to seem silly. Why swing a sword around, or train to stealth? So they join the ranks of the many, while those that love the ART become a member of the few. This takes courage and discipline.

Usually to those that are stuck in the macho mind-set I ask them if they feel it is unrealistic to play the guitar, a video game, or even basketball. I mean you are not going to use any of these things in a real fight. You do them because they are fun for you. Somewhere along the line, just because the martial arts is also a fighting skill it has become only unique if you only do what will knock out your opponent. Yes, we teach those skills too but they are few and limited when you consider the entire realm of the martial arts. Kick start your life with a few flying side kicks to as well as your Muay Thai low kicks. 

Rick Tew Teaches Ninja-Parkour-Back-Flip

“People who mind don’t matter and People who matter don’t mind.”

When others laugh, don’t take it personal but keep in mind that you have one life to live and you should make it very personal.      

So add a little fun to your training, be sure that it isn’t all about elbows to the side of the head or rear chokes and tap outs. Pick up a new skill, make a goofy movie, try swinging on a rope, collect martial art weapons, do a few back flips, go ahead and JUMP, play with a new technique and for the love of the martial ARTS – try on a new pair of shoes.   

3 thoughts on “Do You Have the Martial ART Spirit?”

  1. Hi I am very intreasted to learn martialats and ninja courses. tell how to do courses from your websaite thanking you……………..

  2. This was a great read! Thank you for sharing your confidence, and vulnerability. Your words and actions inspire me, and I hope to train with you soon!

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