Sleep in my own bed, for at least one night. Other things may be happening and I may have to hit the road immediately, but when all settles, other than a few friendly local things, I'm done until January.
Should be a good time for knee surgery. Have to make the appointment soon.
On the "to-do" list: 21 days left on NaNoWriMo to try to get the first draft of a book on teaching methods done. K probably has a list of chores a mile long. Get the house and land ready for winter. Update the website. Officially open the 2015 calendar (very slow this year, but largely because without opening the calendar 2015 is 50% booked. With 4x trips out of the country (most a month long) and another month-long East Coast). Three weeks' worth of accumulated e-mail. Evaluate 2014. Plan 2015. Do some long-term planning. Write some course curriculum.
It's busy, but it's all good. At the same time, it's unfocused. For many years, I lived with a plan and had a goals. When the goals were accomplished, I drifted. This life is a result of the drift. The power of focus is incredible and so is the power of adaptability in a drift. I have to make some evaluations and some choices. Or not. It's all an adventure.
More on the trip later. More on insights and discoveries. For now I have six hours to sleep, and then pack, go to the airport, and fly home. Good to be nearing the end of a journey.
Our body language can determine not only how likely we are to be chosen as a victim of an unprovoked violent crime, but also how likely an attack is to be successful. There are many things we can do to lower the (already low) risk of being hit if we are approached, but one of the simplest is how we hold our hands when talking and listening.
I have an unusual little rule in my clubs. If I am talking to you, and you are not in the middle of a drill or holding a partner, and you don’t have at least one hand held naturally at chest height or above that could successfully intercept me, then I will give you a light tap on the cheek to remind you that you were vulnerable to an attack.
Like many other instructors I teach drills where students have to defend themselves against an attack mid conversation, and I also do reaction exercises where students have to preempt on a visual or verbal stimuli while talking and listening in natural postures.
My ‘slap’ rule may seem harsh, but students only get a light ‘Eric Morcambe stye’ tap and the interesting thing is that the maximum number of times I can recall it happening to one student is three. I’ve seen enough people sucker punched to want my students to have good head protection while they appear as if they are merely talking or listening, and the best way to retrain that body language is constant practice.
I am tired. Mind and body tired. But the heart isn't. This is fun. Teaching is fun. Playing is fun. Watching people shift understanding so that difficult things become simple is powerful. Watching another generation step up to the challenge of improving the teaching methods-- that feels a little like legacy stuff.
Looking forward to a long break at home. Have some writing to do. Have a lot of experience to process. Things have been moving so fast that I haven't been debriefing properly. Lisa of Subtle Warrior came up with a way to train something that has in the past has been too dangerous to train live. Have to experiment to be sure. Klaus in Fritzlar came up with a way for people with neck injuries to participate in a drill that's normally unsafe. It's very easy (at my age and history of concussions and sleep deprivation) to forget things if I don't get some play time.
And today kicks of NaNoWriMo. I won't be doing fiction, but the challenge is to get a draft of a book done in 30 days. In my copious spare time.
Time to hit the road. Teaching in a few minutes.
Yes. Sort of. No.
I get the temptation. There are people willing to pay me for more. More what? That's the question. And I'm a capitalist. Anyone who makes more than they spend is, by at least one definition, a capitalist, and I equate debt to slavery and like functioning in the black. So am I going to turn down money? If it means making shit up, absolutely.
Taught properly, any level of force is dead simple. Not because violence isn't complicated-- it surely is. But because simple works and complexity fails. Because all the things that work, if taught properly, are just natural. Because people already know almost everything about force, maybe on a genetic level. You rarely have to teach people to fight, you have to unteach all the crap that's been layered in their heads over the truth.
People want more. More moves, more techniques...more complexity. And there are people who will fill that desire for cash. I can't do it. In truth, an advanced class, if I were capable of creating it, would have less material, not more. Cleaner principles, more efficiently taught, less to learn, more to understand.
I'm pretty confident that everything that works can be taught to proficiency in forty hours. Years spent practicing would hone the skills, of course, but in the end, this isn't hard. We all know skeletons because we all have skeletons. Locks, takedowns, spine controls, structured striking, destroying base...all just fuckin' with skeletons. (That totally must be a T-shirt). Do you have to teach a dog pack dynamics or an ape how to live in a troop? Hell no. So with humans you just have to point out what they already know.
There are nuances. People who need to escape need very different body mechanics and mindset than those who need to cuff. Granted. So maybe three 40-hour courses, but not interchangeable. And there are always other things-- I want to create an instructor development class. Teaching people how to deal with force is a different skill than dealing with force.
But what actually works is very limited. If you understand it. If you "know" joint locks, there are thousands. If you understand joint locks there are eight. Just eight. It doesn't take long to get that down. Similar for takedowns. And strikes. If someone can teach you for ten years and there are new insights all the time, the instructor may be holding back. Or you may be stupid. Or the teaching is at the level of knowledge, not understanding. And knowledge tends to not come out in a fight.
So, when we discuss the advanced class next year, I'll shift the conversation to how to teach the simple stuff. The people who want complexity can find or make it on their own.
The Golden Move +1
My standard for any combative motion, for a long time, has been the Golden Move:
Every single motion should:
- Injure the threat
- Protect yourself
- Improve your position
- Worsen the threat's position
So you get the stereotypical martial artist who blocks a punch, steps to the correct angle and fires his counterpunch. Taking three moves. Which generally only works in demos where the partner (not a threat) stands still after the block. Offense, defense and motion were never supposed to be separated in the students head or, gods forbid, in the motion of a person who desperately needs efficiency. But it is easier to teach and easier to evaluate than integrated motion.
So, the Gold standard is one move with four effects (and good jujutsu gets more than that with multiple types of damage).
Blindfolded training adds one: 5. Gathers informationTouch is faster than sight. It is almost impossible to make a decisive motion without a 'tell' in the shift in your body weight. So touch is faster, harder to fool and, if you get good at reading precursor motion, gives you a half-beat of precognition
The second list-- Jeff's RulesAnything you teach must:
- Have a tactical use. As he put it, there's no reason to learn to fast holstering because taking your weapon out of the fight first is not useful. Holstering without looking is useful, because it allows you to watch for threats.
- Must work under an adrenaline dump. If you can't do it scared, you can't do it when you need it.
- Must work moving. If you have to have a solid base to hit or shoot, for combative persons you can't hit or shoot. Fights are dynamic, they happen moving.
- Must work when you can't see. I may have added this one, but Jeff was big on indexing, doing everything by touch. If you have to look at your holster or fumble and look for your magazines, you're taking your eyes out of the fight.
The third list was recent: Escape, Control, Disable. It's a way to organize everything you teach, a way to decide what is relevant and what isn't. Strategies, mindset and appropriate techniques are very different for these three different fields.
I want to add a fourth, at Marc's suggestion. Fighting. Just for you to think about on your own. And it will be a big rabbit hole for some of you. Fighting in this context is any form of contest-- Monkey Dance or voluntary Bar Brawl; competition of any type at any level. When you practice what you practice, is it for escape? To cuff? To disable? Or is it just to prove you are better at the skills of the struggle.
Be honest. This is for posterity.
One of the details of this teaching method is correction. The instructor's job is to tell the student what the student did wrong. Even on the rare occasion when the sensei starts with, "Very good..." there is always a "...but" to follow.
We know micromanaging makes for unproductive and unhappy employees. How and why did it become the norm in a field that should be about survival? If you get corrected no matter what you do, it creates a condition called "learned helplessness" in which the best strategy is to do as little as possible. Why waste energy when you will just be corrected anyway? If you're going to be punished, why be tired, too?
We had a great crew at the MNVD seminar. A week of intense fun, learning. For me it was a chance to tighten up on teaching methods and compare and contrast with others.
Dealing with violence, there aren't a lot of good answers. The usual issue is choosing the option that sucks the least. At this venue, all the instructors were on the same page for this: "That's not what I would have done but you did it and it worked. If I were to tell you something that worked was wrong, that doesn't make it wrong, that just means I'm an asshole."
The student's got the sentiment, they got the words. They actually seemed to revel in and they really grew with the freedom. But even on the last day, there were a few questions about whether someone achieved success 'correctly.' And throughout the week, almost everyone had been so brainwashed that when they were not being criticized by the instructors, they were criticizing themselves. One used the Dracula's Cape technique to evade simultaneous attacks from three people. Get this-- at a signal you can't see, three people, all within arm's reach, launch at you simultaneously. And you knock one back and successfully get off the X for the other two, who collide. That's a good day right there.
And you could see the guy who pulled it off listening to an imaginary sensei on his shoulder, telling him it wasn't perfect. Beating himself up over a success.
We all know, or at least should know, that efficient teaching involves rewarding improvement. Punishing imperfection might keep skills from degrading, but it does nothing to show the way forward. Constant criticism is not good teaching. It rewards passivity and creates victims. Knock it off. In the end, it will brainwash the students so badly that they will create and maintain little imaginary sensei that sit on their shoulders and whisper the criticism even when you aren't there.
Don't create that voice in your head, don't create that voice in your student's heads, and if you have an imaginary critical sensei perched on your shoulder, kill it.
In the meantime, Jaime Clubb from the UK sent me a review copy of his book, "Mordred's Victory" I'm about halfway through. I knew Jaime from the now-defunct Cyberkwoon website. It was the place I went to ask questions about Chinese arts, and where I first met Mauricio, Theo, Ffab, Dave Jamieson, Steve Pascoe and a few other valuable friends.
Jaime is someone I know on line only, and he's struck me as a good thinker, good writer. He's grown up with the RBSD movement in the UK.
There's a section in his book about teaching RBSD to kids. I don't teach kids, they don't need to know the things in my head and _if_ they can grasp the concept, they pretty much aren't kids anymore. But that's my perspective, not the truth. And one of his chapters talks about kids asking "why."
I haven't finished the chapter. I wanted to get this written before I finished Jaime's thoughts. Really good insight is often too influential, and when I'm around a good writer or a good instructor with good insights, like all humans I have a tendency to follow instead of think for myself. So a few paragraphs triggered a thought process and I want to get it down before I finish.
So, hat tip to Jaime for making me think.
If you have kids, you know some of the stages. The "no" stage and the "mine" stage. And the why stage. The why stage can be infuriating and there is always a sneaky suspicion that the kid is playing a game, pulling you to the end of your rope: Why is the sky blue? "Because the gasses in the atmosphere absorb more yellow and red light?" Why? "All substances reflect and absorb different electromagnetic wavelengths differently." If I'm very, very lucky here, the kid will switch from the "why" to the "what question: "Whats electromagnetic?"
The kid asking why is NOT trying to punk you out, not trying to dominate you, not trying to humiliate you with how shallow your knowledge really is. The kid doesn't know and desperately wants to know. More than that, kids want to understand, and you can't understand jack shit with just surface knowledge. So they push deeper, and "why" is a question that pushes deeper. If you can honestly track why to the source, you will find the principles that underly everything you do. The principles of the physical art that you study or the principles of your own ethics. All same/same. You just have to keep asking the question and answer honestly.
It's not the "what if" game. Every instructor knows the "what if monkey." For every situation or technique, there's the, "What if he counter attacks with the right hand?" "What if he has a knife concealed in his boot?" "What if he has a friend?" "What if the guy attacking you is a midget with a BJJ background?" "What if you're suddenly attacked by 37 ninjas?"
Because it follows a similar pattern (the same question repeated over and over, always based on the last answer) and because both patterns can be annoying and because both patterns inevitably lead beyond your ability to answer* it is possible to see these as related. But they aren't They absolutely aren't.
The questioning of "why" uses the wisdom of a child to get deeper, to understand things, to get the principles out in the open. The questioning of "what if" makes things more technical, more about the surface. If you understand a deep why, you can use that understanding in a thousand different situations. If you get a great answer on a what if question, you have one thing that you can only use in one ridiculously specific situation.
* Inevitably. All "what if" questions eventually grow into situations that can't be handled. And all why questions eventually dig down to physics so esoteric that no one knows the real answer. Our knowledge is limited, own that.
Every year I deliver a number of single sex and mixed sex personal safety and self defence courses or lectures. A moderator on the online forum Martial Arts Planet recently approached me to write a short article about how I approach the subject of female self defence. The subject is far too large to sum up in a single article, but what I can do is give my opinions on the starting points for creating a worthwhile course.
Planning and Preparation
- Know your audience.
This is crucial for creating course content. The age group (or groups), ethnic mix and general social background will determine both content and approach. Regrettably there is a high probability that within your group you may have women that have suffered some form of violence or abuse, and while the participants will normally have opted to take part, they have not done so to get traumatised by off the cuff remarks or generalisations, nor may they wish to share any experience. The audience determines both the content and teaching style of the course.
- Trainers and the elephants in the room.
(i) Experience. I believe that honesty is the best policy. A trainer should give a very short summation of their background to help put things in context. A trainer should be open about their experience (or lack of experience) and knowledge and the basis on which the course is designed.
(ii) Gender. Can a man deliver a self defence course to women, as he is not a woman? Yes. I know some exceptional self defence trainers both in the UK and abroad of both genders. Their knowledge, experience and ability to empathise and teach are far more important than their gender. Some men will only listen to men talking about self defence and some women will only pay attention to a woman (or have suffered a degree of trauma that makes a same-sex instructor a better option for participation and engagement), but that does not mean that a trainer of your own gender is always the best teacher on this subject.
- Teaching style.
Teaching style is a very individual thing and I have seen a range of different styles used effectively. Although self defence is a very serious subject, humour can be used, although I would advise against poking fun at students that you barely know. A good self defence course should be driven and paced by the instructor but provide the opportunity to include the students as what you say may encourage them to share something that has been weighing on their mind and such sharing may benefit both them, the other attendees and you.
Regrettably the length of the course (and each session) is often decided by the host rather than the trainer. Most trainers still take on constrained courses on the basis that providing some training is better than no training, but in doing so there will always be compromises on both teaching style and content. As a result it is important to prioritise. The mental aspects of self defence are more important, more useful and more permanent than any form of physical training and should be prioritised.
Personal Safety and Self Defence – the mental framework
The mental side of self defence is about empowering your audience through knowledge and personal motivation. What needs to be covered will depend upon the age and social background of your group. The following list and order is flexible as in forming a course certain elements will naturally tie together and cross-pollinate.
- Use of force and the law.
- Accurate crime picture (including risk) based on government, police and ED data (where available).
- Natural human reactions to actual or potential abuse, aggression and violence, both in anticipation of, during and after events.
- Rationales and motivation for action or inaction in self defence both before, during and after events.
- Avoidance strategies.
- Deterrence strategies.
- Awareness – common tactics and patterns in abuse, sexual crime and violent crime.
- De-escalation and no contact escape strategies – body language, use of voice, phrasing.
The list above is very much tied in with your credentials as a trainer. Being a martial artist or having personal experience is not enough. There is a huge body of high quality literature available for research (too much to recommend one single text) based on the experiences of large numbers of people.
Self Defence – the physical framework
Once again what can be delivered will depend upon the age and ability of the group and the time allocated. In my opinion the mental training is the key to unlocking the maximum potential of the physical training.
There is an elephant in the room when it comes to physical training. Realistically not everything works all the time, no matter how good a technique is. Skill, motivation, adrenaline and the element of surprise give an edge but so do aggression, experience and strength. With that said it is important that what is taught is material appropriate to the context of real scenarios and relative positions, is simple to do (even under pressure) and has been shown (to the training deliverer at the very least) to be reliable under pressure.
The following elements should form the basis of the physical part of the course.
- Biomechanics and weak points of the human body.
- Gross motor strikes that utilise otherwise natural and everyday movements.
- Impact training.
- Paired or group work based on HAOV (habitual acts of violence) to build confidence.
- Optional participation in scenario training.
Conscious incompetence. It could be viewed as a pretty harsh term. After all it sounds pretty nasty. Without the right attitude and support it is a discovery that can end martial arts training for many people. I would argue though that conscious incompetence is the driver that distinguishes between the average, the good and the great.
When we begin training we do so with mixed amount of conscious incompetence and unconscious incompetence. We know there’s a lot that we don’t know and we also don’t know how much we don’t know (known unknowns and unknown unknowns). After a short time most students pass into a state of unconscious incompetence, they continue to progress and refine their skills but they don’t really recognise or understand how imperfect their performance is or how it can be improved.
Conscious incompetence is the personal revelation that whatever you are doing is not ‘right’, that it could be done better. This does not necessarily mean that a person’s skill level is low or bad, simply that they recognise little (and large) flaws and areas for improvement. This is not the same as having flaws identified externally by others which we may or may not understand and which we are often coached through whether we ask for help or not.
Seeing fault in our own skill level in a large part of what we do in the martial arts can be extremely frustrating and demoralising. How we respond can determine whether we continue to enjoy our training, stay training in the same discipline or switch to another believing that we have wasted time, or quit the martial arts completely. Which route is taken depends on both the student and the instructor. In my experience a student that takes responsibility for their own learning, looks to their own effort to improve their own technique rather than relying heavily on their coach, and is prepared to put in the time to refine skills and correct faults is far more likely to see conscious incompetence as an interesting and motivating challenge. A student that relies heavily on their instructor for guidance, or who is used to achieving what they believe or have perceived to be a high skill level with ease, is far more like to be dissatisfied and look to blame the technique, the art or the instructor.
I believe that it is important that instructors continuously make students aware that there are levels within levels of techniques and skill sets, and that while they may be able to ‘do’ something, there is always room for an improvement. In such a learning environment, with students always encouraged to seek to polish their skills, conscious incompetence should be highlighted as a learning stage and a sign of improvement. If students are taught to see it as a sign of achievement and an impetus to develop it is less likely to have a negative effect. As a result students will probably be far more likely to come to their instructors for practical advice on how to improve.
The advice we give or take will depend very much on the problem we believe that we are trying to solve. The most important thing is that whether it is a plan for ourselves or for someone else, we should focus on small steps. Objectives should always be SMART, that is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Time limited.
Specific: We must make clear and unambiguous statements about what it is we are going to achieve.
Measurable: There must be some way to determine when the objective has been met. We therefore make a statement that describes how we will measure success or failure of the objective.
Achievable: It must be possible to reach the objective. It is important to understand in advance whether or not the objective is achievable. It is important to remember, however, that many tasks when first approached seem insurmountable, so it is important to be optimistic and to take on a challenge.
Rewarding: The objective should bring sufficient reward that it is worth undertaking. There is always a cost / benefit ratio to consider. It is always important to consider what the cost and benefit will be before initiating a task.
Time limited: There should be a clear time frame set out for when the objective will be met. Many things of worth are not achieved quickly and it is important to approach tasks consistently rather than sporadically. Breaking the task down into sub-tasks and estimating time frames is essential if we are to understand the cost of the task.
Unconscious incompetence, conscious competence and conscious incompetence are a continuous cycle in our development. We approach something knowing we don’t know it, we then believe that we do know it and then discover that we don’t know it as well as we could. This engenders training to attempt to regain that feeling of conscious competence, but in doing so we also gain conscious incompetence of related skill sets and a realisation that we had unconscious incompetence of other things, and so our growth continues. It can be overwhelming or it can be seen as an exciting challenge. I like to view it as the latter and that is one of the main reasons why I’m still training.
The idea is how to train for emergencies. What teaching methods have the best chance when the skills must be used out of the box, under stress and with no time to think? Most of our current idea about teaching and learning are classroom based. Gordon Graham's High Risk-Low Frequency category is rarely addressed. When it is addressed, too often it is a magical handwave past the messy parts and an opportunity for administrators to check a box.
Military and police do it, sometimes well, often not. But professional units have a huge advantage and it may be the single most important component to making the skills functional. They do everything in their power to make sure that no one goes through their first several real encounters alone. You will have an FTO or be assigned to a squad. You try to make sure never to make a new unit out of rookies and if you must (say, because there is a new technology and therefor new and untested techniques) you put the most grizzled old veteran you can find in charge. If you want the unit to succeed.
This opportunity doesn't exist for civilians. You won't get the chance to go through your first home invasion with a partner who has been through dozens. And that modeling of someone else who knows how to deal with it may be the critical thing. So how can you train without it?
Have to cover teaching methods, adult learning, curriculum development. But I also want to get into the mysteries. Why do some very advanced techniques come out of nowhere with untrained people sometimes? There are a very few people who with minimal training and no experience did ridiculously complex things exactly as trained... but no one else with the same training did it. And statistically it appears to be so rare it might as well never happen. But it does. And some "perishable" skills seem to lock in under circumstances and pop up when needed decades after the last event or training. For all people? For some? Lots of mysteries.
Likely a section on acquiring the skills that will make you valuable to other people. Everybody can teach, but not everybody can teach something useful.
And even sections on the paperwork necessary if you want to teach pros.
Big project. Eager to get started and worried it won't be enough. I know this feeling.
I have lesson plans. I have lesson plans coming out of my ears. I've written lesson plans for SAR, the Sheriff's Office, the National Guard, the Iraqi Corrections Service... but, sometimes, damn.
So I'm in Germany. Some evening classes for civilians, cool. The regular Ambushes and Thugs/Intro to Violence seminar over the weekend. Cool. Conflict Communications on the campus of the Mainz riot police, cool. Conflict Communications is always cool since it doesn't matter what the problem is. Bad guys? Clueless bosses? Family? ConCom explains it pretty well. Tuesday was ConCom.
Wednesday was scheduled for physical control. I had been led to believe that this group needed some skills in arrest and control tactics. Perfectly cool, I'm relatively good at that. But no. Sigh. 37 people. Maybe fifteen agencies. None of them had the same policies or tools.
My normal arrest and control lesson plan is pretty practical. In eight hours we cover:
- Joint locks
- Take downs
- Leverage and leverage points
- Stance integrity
- Ground movement
- Pain (ethics and application)
- Lock transition to cuffing
- Using the Environment
Turns out I'm relatively good at this. Yeah, international trainer and all that jazz, blah, blah, blah... but I have never felt like I'm a good teacher, which probably has a lot to do with the tendency to improve...
Fighting organizes. It can organize in several ways. So I made the most appropriate organization for this group and let them vote on what they needed. We can talk about why later. The thing that I got excited about is that, as much as I train and think about conflict, I'd never organized it this way. Three levels: Escape, Control, Survival.
Completely different in every aspect. Only the Principles (things that made everything else work) crossed all three categories. And some became awesome insight. Power generation (one of my building blocks) is entirely different in "escape mode" and "damage mode" and doesn't apply (as I define it) at all in control mode. So I put the building blocks under the categories in which they were important. And let the students vote.
Okay, that's good teaching, let the adult students take control, blah blah blah...But I don't think i have ever once looked at my personal lost of critical skills (the BUILDING BLOCKS) and tied the to the basic goals--escape, control, disable. And it was easy. And powerful. And empowered the students.
Something Lawrence said a few weeks ago has been rolling around in my head. He said my writing, speaking and teaching were "pithy." Not a lot of words, many things implied or assumed instead of said. At the same time, I cover a fair amount of information. "Facing Violence" was essentially two hundred pages expanding on two paragraphs in "Meditations on Violence."
Implied and assumed. Assumed is hard, and potentially a serious problem. I'll write about experience thresholds later, but basically, people at different levels of experience think in different ways. Beginning drivers don't think like experienced drivers and experienced drivers don't think quite like security drivers and no one things about it like rally drivers.
The first time I taught a seminar, and one of the reasons I started writing, was because many of the students didn't have a vocabulary for things that were obvious to me. That there was a difference between a fight and an assault, for instance, or that self-defense was an affirmative defense to a crime. Violence is deep stuff and big, bigger than I will ever fully understand... but the parts I am familiar with have aspects that seem obvious, but may not be to others.
So you have to watch for your own assumptions all the time. When you teach, be alert for people who are not doing quite what you said, or are hesitating to begin at all. You may have confused them. And set up test questions (something else I need to write about) which are ways to find out what a thing truly is. You can use a test question to find if a situation is predatory or miscommunication; a proper boundary setting acts as a test question-- no normal person goes beyond the second step, opportunistic predators will push the third. For teaching, one of my favorite test questions is to have the student teach me. "Chris, you've been here four times. Guess what? You're teaching power generation."
Implied. I don't mind leaving lots implied. I teach adults and I respect them as adults. There's no need to spoon feed. Getting into specifics of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) makes sense because so few have done it and almost everything they know about dealing with social conflict will fail. But they all have experience with social conflict, if not violence, and one of the keys in teaching adults is to tie it to their experience. I don't have to explain in details the things they experience every day, and it's a waste of time and, IMO, a show of disrespect to do so.
And there's a benefit. People aren't stupid. Okay, people in groups and people trumpeting their affiliations and a lot of drivers are stupid... but individuals are pretty smart. And, when allowed to be, they are innovative and insightful. And humans like to succeed and hate to fail. Which means, if you give them the tools and leave them alone, they'll do okay. And sometimes they surprise you and come up with something better than you ever thought of. Those are the best days for a teacher.
'Cause I'm wrong about everything. In an infinite universe, there are no perfect answers. Which means there are no right answers. Better and worse, but no "right." So everyone is wrong all the time. Including me. And every time you give a student freedom, there is a chance that she will come up with something that shifts the entire paradigm an order of magnitude closer to that unreachable perfection. That makes the student better. It makes you better, if you have the humility to learn from your own student. It makes the world better.
Two of my biggest epiphanies in martial arts came from mistakes. Misunderstanding instructions in one case and simply screwing up the footwork in another... and the product of those mistakes was ten times better (not exaggerating at all) than the 'right' way.
So if a student does misunderstand... they are adaptable, smart, tough, survivors. They will have a tendency to make the misunderstanding work. In doing so, they may change everything I think I know for the better. I'm okay with that.
Seven days in Minnesota is almost upon us:
Underneath it all, there is a key thought that might be immensely powerful, but I don't think the author even noticed.
That said, I'm pretty confident that anyone with a modicum of training in actual science would have been appalled by the book as I was... but it was recommended to me by a highly intelligent young man. So why aren't people given a solid education in critical thinking and the scientific method?
Second piece of the thought, stemming from a conversation with Marc MacYoung and touching on the worlds of politics and self defense, on Rotherham and gun control and a bureaucracy completely out of control.
As strange as it seems, I am coming to believe that there are some people, maybe many, who believe that rules actually exist. That when you write a law it actually changes the world. That when you forbid bullying in school, bullying will magically decrease. And magically is the operative word because there is nothing inherent in paper and ink to change people's behavior. Unenforced, rules only have power over the people who consciously agree to abide by them or those so brainwashed or superstitious that they, too believe the rules are real. Someone who believes that a "Keep Off The Grass" sign actually forces people not to walk on grass.
As such, these laws and rules and policies are simply complex spells. And like most magic, they only work on the people who believe (consciously or not) in magic. And making more and more rules has the horrific affect of controlling the people who would voluntarily control their own behavior while doing absolutely nothing for the few who won't. And, as in Rotherham, the priests of this religion get rewarded for doing the rituals correctly even if the bad guys actually gained power. Because energy going into casting spells isn't going into solving problems, no matter what the superstitious want to believe.
If you saw a lithic-technology native who had never contacted Western civilization before and he told you that he wore a cord woven of a red leaf to keep his mother healthy, you'd probably have some pretty condescending thoughts. You'd recognize the superstition and ignorance of sympathetic magic. So, tell me, do you ever wear a pink ribbon for breast cancer?
Like all sympathetic magic, the awareness campaigns give the feeling of doing something without actually putting in the effort and expense. Contribute money to research? Volunteer for hospice? Those are acts and they do something. Wear a ribbon or put a sign on your lawn? That's voodoo. Don't get me wrong, some people are making a hell of a living from running charity campaigns. So your superstition is serving somebody.
Visualizing world peace doesn't work. And it's obviously a stupid platitude, obviously ridiculous, obviously dependent on magic. But a bumper sticker that says "Support Our Troops"gives the actual troops zero support. And if you have that bumper sticker but talked your own kids out of signing up, I wish the hypocrisy would make your head explode.
Struck again with how robust the patterns are. Our ancestors in loincloths making sacrifices and cowering in their huts from the thunder-- that's still us. And we're still using the same tools, whether we realize it or not.
Taking everything out, ignoring the fact that 1400 girls were systematically victimized, ignoring any cultural or racial parameters, I want to focus on one very simple thing.
16 years. 1400 victims. Local government, social services, the police and the National Health Service knew about it. Only five arrests, as near as I can make out... until this news report broke.
This is the part I want to write about: The groups that did so little, the groups that even after they knew children were being victimized, and by doing nothing allowed hundreds of others be victimized, were praised. They were praised for their approach and focus and their collaboration and their 'best practices.'
Partner, if 'best practices' leave children to be injured, they aren't 'best.' They aren't even good.
There's form and there's function. If the form doesn't accomplish the function, it doesn't matter how perfect the form is, it is wrong. When a person or an organization focuses on the form to the exclusion of function, which appears to be the trend in all bureaucracies, they become useless. And in cases like this, actively evil.
If you have a test to promote your sergeants, but the people who score high on the test aren't significantly better than the ones who score low, your test is wrong. It is a failure. You are testing for something-- tests always test for something-- but it is not testing for what you believe it is.
If your academy curriculum is centered around what is measurable and not what a rookie needs, it is a tool of bureaucracy, not justice or even survival. And you are dooming students to injury and maybe death to appease the system. And it is a system. And when the system must be served more than the people, you get Rotherham.
It's the way of the world. It has become so ordinary that no one notices, or those that do, laugh. California requires MSDS for bricks. There are places where you can't legally make a straw bale house because no one has written code for them. On a daily level, the constant bureaucratic meddling is annoying or funny. Hideously expensive and wasteful. But we just move on, because it seems so normal.
But this is 1400 victimized children. It should be a slap in the face hard enough to make anyone and everyone rethink how their methods are measured.
Otherwise, the gods of bureaucracy will have their blood sacrifices.
If you and I ever collaborate, think twice before you give me the power to name things. The only reasons my kids aren't named Nifty and Swifty are because my wife has these things called "rules" about "proper behavior" and she enforces them and knows where I sleep. Long and short of it, if we're having a Violence Dynamics intensive seminar and no one tells me otherwise, I'm damn well calling it the VD Clinic.
This year's MNVD will be held October 13-19 at the Mermaid in Mound's View MN. They'll have a special hotel rate for us. It will be twenty-five blocks of training over seven days. You can attend the whole thing, the weekdays, the week-end, or individual sessions.
The instructors will be Kasey Keckeisen, local SWAT member, training coordinator, experienced martial artist; Marc MacYoung, one of the pioneers of the RBSD movement; and me.
The details and sign-ups are here:
I'm excited about this one. You're going to get a core dump of insights, tactics and philosophies from three perspectives-- experienced perspectives. This is the only PD I've worked with that is cool with civilians training with officers. No details, but one of the sessions will be shared with a local specialty team. And if you are a pro, it is all POST certified.
The only one that is likely to fill beyond capacity is the Sunday session, Advanced People Watching and Reading Terrain. We have to limit the group size to the point that security doesn't notice we're running a class, so people who sign up for the whole week will have preference on attending Sunday.
The Mermaid Entertainment and Events Center. 2200 Hwy 10Mounds View, MN 55112763-786-2000
Sign-ups and further details:
Long good talk with Erik Kondo last week about improving navigation on CRGI and many other things. Stay tuned on that, there are a couple of ongoing projects I need to write about soon. In the process we were talking about identifying good practices and practitioners, and I was balking.
"My idea of good may not be someone else's. There's a lot of really good stuff out there, particularly in the traditional arts, that is just misunderstood or missed by the instructors." I said.
"Good's hard to identify," Erik agreed, "But you can spot bad in a heartbeat."
You have no idea how much I hate arguing with people who are smarter than me. But at least I learn a lot.
So when validating a technique, deciding whether it will work and whether to teach it, three things immediately come to mind. There may be a lot of other ways to suck, but these are usually easy to see and are definitely failures.
1) Time framing. Everything you do takes time. The less time it takes, the more efficient it is. The longer it takes to get to the same point the less efficient it is. If the technique taught requires more time than exists, you have a time framing problem.
You will never dodge a sword strike with a back handspring. If I throw a jab at your chin within range, you will never get a hand from your hip in time to intercept it. If you have an eight move defense and counter to a single move attack, your attacker is eight times more efficient than you are. You lose. Even if the initial attack and the counter take the same time (or the technique has a slight edge) it probably won't make up for the action/reaction gap. If you are reacting, the opponent will have completed a certain percentage of the motion (maybe the whole attack) before you Observe, Orient and Decide and initiate your reaction.
There are a number of things that influence this. Telegraphing is a big one. In many cases, you can look like you are very fast or even telepathic if you are good at reading telegraphs. Almost everyone has unnecessary preparatory moves before they begin the real action. Almost as prevalent and much more damaging to the student is poor distancing. You can get away with almost anything if you insist that the attack begins from a half-step out of range. If your technique relies on that half-step, it simply won't work.
2) Brainwashing. You can look all over the internet for the videos of the chi masters making their students go dizzy by pointing fingers or knocking people down without touching them. Here's the deal. There is a thing called "victim grooming" where a predator takes time and effort, usually with a child, and raises that child to believe that being a victim is normal and to actively seek out abuse. The students of these chi-masters (and a lot of others) have been subjected to the same process. They have been trained to respond as if magic works or suffer cognitive dissonance and some painful rethinking.
Probably shouldn't have started with chimeisters because it makes it easy to pretend the lower levels of this don't exist. But a lot of them do. Sometimes it is purely mental "I know this technique works because it only takes twelve pounds of pressure to break a knee..." No it doesn't. Your knee can take twelve pounds all day. Twelve pounds moving at 100mph is a completely different problem.
Sometimes it is physical. If your technique only works on your own students, it doesn't work. If you are more likely to be injured by a beginner than an experienced practitioner, your system may be deliberately creating inefficient fighters. That's the technical term for "losers." If you're demonstrating a technique and the student steps back to give you plenty of time, subtly points at which fist she is about to use... sigh. Groomed victim.
Lastly, demos and seminars and you. Really easy to see other people being brainwashed. Much harder to grasp your own suggestibility. Almost all people are suggestible to a degree. You've all seen that yawns are contagious. That's one example. Everyone thinks they are resistant to suggestion, but that belief has, apparently, no correlation to one's actual suggestibility. And when you go to a seminar, your suggestibility is heightened. You have already decided to go to the seminar expressly because there is something about this instructor you admire. That lowers your skepticism. (And don't think a skeptical attitude is a defense, I've read many stage magicians who consider self-declared skeptics the easiest to fool). You will be in a crowd of others who feel the same way, triggering the human herd instinct. Sometimes accentuated by insisting that people come dressed traditionally (much harder to break ranks when everyone looks/dresses the same.) And the really good ones have techniques to pick out the most suggestible (or at least weed out the most resistant) so that the early demos go so well it becomes even harder to question or complain.
If the instructor tells students what is supposed to happen, whether three touches on a meridian will make a KO or that when a hand appears going for the face the body has no choice but to throw itself (and, yes, before you ask, I have heard both of those) the explanation is part of the technique.
Bottom line, if the bad guy is responsible for making the technique work, the technique doesn't work.
3) Mechanical advantage. Any good technique must have a mechanical advantage. It must have an element of leverage, structure or vector that gives it an edge over things applied with more power. You can only do a good sweep if there is enough distance from the sweeping foot and the shoulder crash. You need the leverage. My wife could never outmuscle me pulling her into a hug, but she can use her pointy little elbows to make it really hurt, pitting my strength against her structure and winning. If a fist is coming in and you try to stop it straight on you would have to be far more powerful than the person throwing the punch... but a slap to the side has the vector to redirect a massive difference in power.
Ideally, a good technique will have advantages in all three-- good structure applied with maximized leverage along an advantageous vector. And there is no rule that says a bad guy can't be better at all three elements than you. That's life.
Bottom line- unless there is clear mechanical advantage in a technique, it will only work against a smaller, weaker opponent. It will only work for a bad guy.
No matter how tested something is or under what conditions it has been tested, all you know is that you haven't found the failure point yet. But the failure point is out there. So is your stuff valid? That depends how far you have tested your stuff. There is a point where it will cease to work. And the uncertainty increases when it is not tested. When there is no way to validate a thing, humans seek validation instead.
You can't be 100% sure of very much. 1+1=2 with high reliability when applied to rocks. It's less reliable when applied to rabbits. When you can't be sure (validity) people want to feel sure (validation).
How does one go about validation? They like be told by other people that they are good. There are a lot of rituals and trappings to it, but that's the essence. A black belt. Certificates and trophies. Creating "Councils of Masters" who cross-certify each other as "Masters." In the RBSD world, you have instructors who are combing academic abstracts looking for studies that appear to justify their own beliefs or discredit a competitor's. Everybody wants a guy in a white coat with a PhD after his name to validate their approach. The academic researcher takes the place of the shaman is this quest in this culture.
And that last, science, isn't bad. If you are scientifically literate (understand experimental design, the scientific method and the basics of statistical analysis as a start) and read the actual article, not just the abstract. And don't cherry-pick too hard.
But the rest aren't bad, either. Sort of. I want validation too. My validation comes from the respect of people that I respect. Hmmmm. Sort of. I respect almost everyone as a matter of courtesy. But when I look at my closest friends, I'm a little humbled to be accepted in their company. But it can be a fine line between a group of operators and former operators telling war stories and and a cross-certifying Master's Council. I'm fairly positive that each of those "masters" convince themselves that the others on the council are extraordinary and being allowed in is a compliment (even if one Hall of Fame award was offered to every member of a certain martial arts forum one year. Sigh.)
There are certificates that mean a lot to me because of who they came from and how they were earned. And I know there are, or used to be, certificates that came in a sheaf with a box of DVDs all pre-signed by the "master" so that you could fill them out and show potential students your hundreds of certifications.
And trophies-- you win an olympic judo medal or a UFC title and you are one tough son of a bitch, dedicated and skilled. Or you can just go to an event that has three times as many categories as competitors and come home with a pocketful of gold medals from events where you had no opposition. The good and worthless trophies look just the same on the wall.
It can look like the goal is to be strong enough not to need outside validation, to be so sure that you don't need other people telling you how good you are. But that doesn't work either, because some of the worst instructors I have seen had a profoundly over-developed ego. Someone who truly feels superior usually sucks (Dunning-Kruger) and are most likely to reject outside opinions yet most likely to need them.
Sometimes I think about offering a certification program in thinking for yourself. The catch being that if you want a certificate in autonomy from someone else, you don't get it. You don't get the certificate or the concept.
It wasn't a big thing, there was a single sentence about validity, but the concept of validity in self-defense instruction is a big one. Rocky.
I've seen a lot of things work and a lot of things fail. And thought -- a lot-- about why things succeed or fail. And those whys became my personal list of principles, and those principles became the framework for my teaching. And that was tested in the field. A lot. And... does that make what I do valid?
What does valid even mean?
Here's the deal. A few people have seen the elephant. But on one, no one, has seen the whole elephant. Soldier experience isn't cop experience. Cop experience isn't corrections experience. Corrections experience isn't bouncer experience. Bouncer experience isn't secure mental health custodial experience. And none of that is direct experience with domestic violence. None of that, hopefully, is experience with being targeted as a victim.
As a man, when I teach SD to women, there is an entire part of the equation (what it's like to be a woman) that I can never understand. But, you know what? I also can't truly understand what it's like to be a bigger, stronger man than I am. Or what it's like to have 30 years of kempo experience instead of jujutsu. I know enough about violent criminals to predict their behavior and pick apart their rationalizations in an interrogation, but I've never been one.
All any of us has is a piece of this. There are no experts. So is there validity? Sort of.
Validity is a function of logic, of syllogism, specifically. (And I'm a little out of my depth in the nuances of philosophy 101, but bear with me a bit). If A is B and B is C then A is C. If there are no holes in the logic chain, then it is valid. A is C. Is it true? Seriously, do you even have to ask? If A was C, then cat would be cct. All of the pieces have to be true for validity to resemble truth. As well as all of the assumptions, like what 'is' means.
In self-defense, one of the dangers is that people confuse validity for truth, and they often teach that things that should work do work, or that things that worked on sober, eager students in a class will work on drugged and enraged people in other places. People frequently rate logic or received wisdom over experience.
"As we all know, self-defense is exactly like math. If you do the same thing, you will get the same effect every time."-- A self-defense instructor who will remain nameless. Not a single person with any experience whatsoever and a marginally functioning brain believes this. Not one. Probabilities go up with higher levels of force, e.g. I have never heard of a .50 to the head failing...but a .45 to the head has.
This validity, this search for truth is, in my opinion, a side effect of the subject matter. We recognize that if we or our students are ever called on to use these skills it will be for high stakes. Any failures will be catastrophic. The combination of high stakes and limited experience (remember that three hundred encounters is probably less than five hours of experience) drives people to seek certainty elsewhere: Received wisdom from a 'master.' Thought experiments. Dojo experiments. Chains of logic where every step is a guess or an assumption.
You would be so much stronger as a fighter or a teacher if you could just get over the need to be sure. There is no right. As Tia said recently, there's just solutions with less suck than other solutions. That lets the goal change from being right to being better. The problem with thinking you're right is that you can't improve on 'right.' Accepting that there are no perfect answers, that tiny touch of humility, gives you the superpower of continuous improvement. You can never be perfect. You can never be right. Feeling sure is a dead giveaway that you don't actually know. But you can be better. Every day.
And validity is a slightly separate issue from validation, but that's a post for another day.
"I have only one purpose: to make man free, to urge him towards freedom, to help him to break away from all limitations, for that alone will give him eternal happiness, will give him the unconditioned realization of the self."
J. Krishnamurti, "Truth is a Pathless Land
I've shared an amazing, mind-opening parable by Jiddu Krishnamurti before, but I think it bears repeating. If you recall, Krishnamurti was very influential in the 60s and 70s, and the late Bruce Lee looked to Krishnamurti's writings for inspiration. JKD has many points in comparison to Krishnamurti's teachings, most of which are about freedom and individuality.
“You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it."
In my five decades of martial arts and combatives training I have picked up pieces of the truth here and there. For a very brief period I considered organizing these pieces, putting them together in a systematic way, carefully arranging them into a tidy, neat package. Fortunately, I too read Krishnamurti, and I began to see things differently.
"Truth," Krishnamurti went on to say, "being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief."
So what I ended up with in my own walk was a disorderly collection of common-sense, no frills skills, skill-sets, training methodologies, concepts and principles. They are not in any particular order, but they seem to flow naturally from one to another and back again.
I still get contacted from time to time from people who would like to see this information laid out in a sequential, step-by-step, systematic manner. And it is tempting at times to consider it, but I'm afraid I'd just turn out like the devil's friend in Krishnamurti's wise tale, forever trying to organize the collection, labeling the various parts, arranging them, trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that cannot be solved.
So along the way I ended up with some oddball nuggets, some slivers and segments, some untidy tidbits of truth concerning self-preservation and coming face to face with aggression.
In this, my final blog article, I wanted to share some of these random truths.
1. Fighting is primal.
"So it was in him, then," wrote Zane Grey, "an inherited fighting instinct, a driving intensity to kill."
Fighting, like other actions promoting survival, is in our genes and part of our instinctive drive. According to Konrad Lorenz in his bestselling book "On Aggression," Julian Huxley "compared the human being to a ship commanded by many captains. All these commanders are on the bridge at the same time and each voices his opinion. In doing so they sometimes reach a wise compromise which provides a better solution to their problems than the single opinion of the cleverest among them; but sometimes they cannot agree and then the ship is without any rational leadership."
I contend that in the face of danger this counsel of commanders drops the compromise and listens to the single voice of survival. But while the primal urge to survive is there, we must intentionally gain knowledge and experience and skill to make survival possible, to make sure the odds are in our favor when the time comes to roll the dice.
If in our training we learn to follow what I call the A-B-C principle, Action Before Cognition, and respond instinctively, forcefully, and immediately to a threat, free from the paralysis of analysis, we become reacquainted with and reinforce this natural self-preservation instinct.
2. Some people are natural fighters, (but most are not).
Just listen to this description of Civil War soldier, Champ Ferguson: "He was a man of strong sense, and of the intense will and energy, which, in men of his stamp and mode of life, have such a tendency to develop into ferocity, when they are in the least injured or opposed. It is probable that, at the close of the war, he did not himself know how many men he had killed."
In the martial arts world these types of people simply love to fight. They seem to have no fear, will take on bigger and tougher opponents with glee, and must be taught to rein in their combative instinct less fellow students become injured.
Most of us, however, do not have this so-called killer instinct so close to the surface. It lies deep within, like a dormant volcano.
Most of us must be trained to unleash this beast.
3. Fancy, flashy, exotic looking movements are a waste of precious energy and much too risky to attempt in the heat of battle.
One simply cannot imagine an ancient ancestor, out hunting a giant mammoth to feed his tribe, who stops and twirls his spear in an elaborate manner before plunging it into the beast's neck. Or practicing cartwheels before letting loose an arrow in mortal combat with a hostile enemy.
Just yesterday, as I drove past a strip-mall martial arts academy, I saw the windows decorated with images of people performing high flying kicks. I went in and watched a martial arts demonstration featuring people jumping and kicking and leaping through the air. I saw unrealistic Hollywood-movie defenses against guns and knives and clubs. There were people breaking flaming bricks, performing techniques en masse in unison and precision, yelling menacingly, and executing deep, elaborate stances that were designed to replicate the movements of fierce animals.
This is art, plain and simple.
Martial ART is to combat what a mime's performance is to reality.
Watch a mime 'ice skate' or 'eat an apple' or 'walk against the wind.' If he's really good you can almost come to believe that what he's doing is real. But it's an exaggerated expression or depiction of the essence of reality. Superb form, of course, and extremely difficult to perform. But it's not reality.
We do not study the mime's movements in order to improve our own. We do not find truth in a mime's performance, we simply see an artful representation of tiny segment of life.
4. Use whatever works.
Aside from the rare, gifted athlete who can perform seemingly impossible moves, most of us should just stick to time-tested, battle-proven, no-nonsense, common-sense, practical, effective and efficient skills.
They are not nearly as exciting or crowd pleasing, but the truth of the matter is we are not performing to please the crowd. We are not preparing to face a master, we are training to fight monsters.
We should be pragmatic, using skills from whatever source we can find, regardless of style and devoid of aesthetics merely for the sake of aesthetics.
5. Fortunately most of us will never come face to face with the horrors of war, the terror of a vicious attack. But, just in case...
Peace and comfort is probably something we've grown used to, something we've come to expect. But this is not true for many people around the world who live in war-torn countries, harsh conditions, and who must deal with random and daily occurrences of violence.
Our ancestors, still very much in the food chain, faced the threat of predation daily. The comedian Louis CK wonders what it would be like for commuters today if cheetahs were always hanging around at the train station.
The truth is most of us will succumb to heart disease or some other ailment, so kill-or-be-killed training is simply (pardon the pun) overkill for our daily lives.
This is probably why most people who practice martial arts emphasize the ART over the MARTIAL. FORM over FUNCTION. ENTERTAINMENT over EFFECTIVENESS. RITUAL over REALITY. This is probably why kata is still so popular. It is something to obsess over--the precision, the minutiae, the tedious and trivial pursuit of stuff that doesn't really matter.
6. Real violence is nasty and brutish.
It is ugly and reprehensible. It is chaotic and unpredictable. It happens fast, and it's usually over quickly. It is not something to glory in or desire. It is not pleasant or poetic.
It's been interesting writing articles, researching history, philosophy, cognitive psychology and physics. It's been a joy playfully poking fun at the martial arts world. Now, it's time for me to put up my rock and roll shoes and read some fiction for a change.
What do we mean by block?
My old concise Oxford Dictionary offers 18 different meanings for ‘block’ as a noun and 6 for it as a verb, a number of which seem suited to the context in which the term is used in the martial arts:
- an obstruction; anything preventing progress or normal working,
- a blocking action,
- put obstacles in the way of,
- restrict the use of,
- intercept with one’s body (American football).
It’s not a bad term, but one I suggest is still more limiting than the actual karate uke techniques themselves.
In a lot of martial arts that use Japanese language terminology when two people train together they may be referred to as Tori, the person that successfully ‘does’ the technique, and Uke, the person that receives the technique. For at least the last fourteen years I have used the word ‘receiver’ to translate the word ‘uke’ when it refers to a technique (such as Age Uke, Ude Uke, Uchi Uke) as I feel it allows for the broad range of things that the movements can be than the more commonly used term ‘block’.
When is an uke technique not an uke technique?
Most uke techniques are made up of a number of gross motor movements, often with some fine motor additions at the end. The opinion of what is and what isn’t an uke technique will vary from person to person. How much of the movement, and what part of the movement, has to be done before we can say “I used this uke technique”?
As an example, here are descriptions of two different uke techniques. I recognise that they will be taught differently from style to style and from association to association (and my version may well be viewed as heretical or incorrect by some), but I will describe them as I do them if I were doing Shotokan Karate kihon as Shotokan is one of the karate styles that I teach.
Right Arm Age Uke: the left arm extends palm open and down to the front at head height with the right hand fist closed palm up at the hip. The right hand (fist closed and palm facing upwards) moves diagonally across the body from right to left (outside to inside) to approximately shoulder height, supported by a partial turn of the right hip forward. The right arm then moves a small amount from the inside to the outside while continuing to push upwards, the forearm rotating so that the back of the hand now faces the head and the uppermost surface of the forearm is clear of the top of the head. The elbow of the right arm is lower than the fist and the angle of the forearm is diagonal rather than horizontal. This final movement is supported by a further turn of the right hip forward of the left. The hips turn fluidly throughout the movement and the movement of the right arm should be fluid throughout. As the right arm moves the left hand retracts sharply to the hip, closing to a fist and rotating to a palm up position. This can be done with supporting stepping motions.
Right Arm Ude Uke: the left arm extends palm open and down to the front at head height and the right arm is pulled back level with the head, its elbow at approximately shoulder height with the forearm at a vertical right angle to the upper arm and rotated so that the closed right fist faces away from the head. The right forearm then rotates so that the palm of the closed fist faces forwards and the right elbow drops down and forwards sweeping across the body from the outside towards the inside, supported by the right hip orientating forwards of the left. As the right arm reaches its end point (which would have been the centerline of the chest had the hips not turned) the forearm rotates so that the palm of the closed fist faces towards the practitioner. As the right arm moves the left hand retracts sharply to the hip, closing to a fist and rotating to a palm up position. This can be done with supporting stepping motions.
In basic training and in kata the prior extension of the ‘non blocking’ arm is common to the majority of uke techniques. As such if I just do that I would not describe myself as having done an uke technique, I see it as a setup movement, albeit a very important one in a lot of practical applications (as is its retraction). From a personal standpoint if I just do the diagonal upwards movement in one direction described in my version of Age Uke, whether the outside to inside part or the inside to outside reversal, I would not say “I have done Age Uke”, but if I did both I would describe it as an Age Uke. In similar vein although many years ago I was taught in Jiyu Kumite to move and rotate my arm a few inches from its kamae position from the outside to the inside and that movement was also ‘Ude Uke’, for me (and this is an opinion not a fact) it does not utilise enough of the movement to go by that name and I see it purely as a closed hand parry. As such I wouldn’t call an open or closed handed high outside to inside parry Gedan Barai, though if it is then followed by the arm sliding along and across the parried limb to strike the attacker with a hammerfist I would. If the same following outward movement went upwards rather than downwards then I would not be adverse to describing it as an Age Uke.
Flinching, parrying, swatting, patting, diverting and slipping and uke techniques
There are a number of different reactions we make to attacks. The tongue in cheek descriptor I use for the different umbrella aspects that govern the actions or reactions of the ‘defender’ is the FEAR of the defender: their focus, experience, attitude and reaction time – all measured or competing against the EASE of the attack (environment, attitude, speed and entry angle). In broad terms though what we do in response to an attack will depend upon whether or when we see it, how long we have to react to it and how much experience we have dealing with it along with what we’ve trained to do.
The fastest most natural proactive things we can do in response to an attack we have not pre-empted are simple gross motor actions. Patting or parrying from one side to the other, pushing up or swatting down, or slipping straight under. These are all natural movements that most people will do if they have enough time unless confused by being specifically told to do something else. Where training comes in is that a trained person will
- spot the telegraphs of the attack sooner and begin to make appropriate movements,
- have improved reaction time from regular exposure to the stimuli,
- have superior supporting biomechanics to ensure a greater likelihood of success,
- have a superior ability to follow (or convert) their swat/parry/push/pat/slip with an appropriate ‘shutting down’ movement or combination.
Depending on the style (and the student) there are often points in training (particularly in the first few years) where an untrained person will avoid being struck with greater success and ease than a trained person because they are carrying less mental baggage about what they should be doing in support of the movement and that is particularly true if a person is trying to utilise a ‘complete’ uke technique in the manner I described above (with Age Uke and Ude Uke as examples) against an unpredictable attack at speed.
While flinching is a natural movement (and can to a degree biomechanically overlap with some of the examples given above) it differs from them in that it is an unconscious reflexive response. We all flinch, but we do so unconsciously when we do not have time to access a conscious response to protect ourselves. How we flinch will depend on how far away the stimuli is when we spot it, how fast it is, where it is headed, and the position of our hands and arms at the time. If you spot a punch heading towards your face at the last minute and your hands are down by your waist, they may begin to come up as if to cover the head, and the spinal reflex will kick in turning you down and away, and the face will scrunch and the eyes shut, but you will still get hit. If your hands were already in front of your face then your arms would probably have covered the head and you wouldn’t have been hit. If there were more time the arms (or the nearest arm) would have extended to push the threat away. If there were more time than that then you would most likely have accessed a conscious response and your unconscious brain would not have taken over. We cannot modify the flinch. We can reduce its likelihood through training and learning to spot and act on telegraphs earlier. We can also (if we’re sensible) practice recovering from flinch-like positions so that if we do flinch we are immediately able to respond rather than fall victim to follow up attacks. I’ve previously discussed how I view flinching and its relation to karate kata, sparring and techniques here.
Karate uke and applications
Uke can be used and trained for a number of different purposes, some of which are more effective in different environments and under different degrees of pressure than others. So far as I’m concerned whether an application of an uke is right or wrong comes down to the Ronseal test: does it do what it says on the tin?
Stepping backwards with a full Age Uke and Ude Uke (as described above) against a prearranged long-range straight punching torso or chin attack at speed works. I can’t question that, I’ve seen it done hundreds of times and I’ve done it hundreds of times. I’ve not seen it work in other environments, and I’ve seen it fail in other environments, but that doesn’t matter if that’s not your training intention. If you can reliably apply it to do what you want it to do then it passes the Ronseal test for you.
Uke make up the majority of karate kata techniques. It is my opinion (and this isn’t a new view by any means, it has been common in the karate world for a very long time) that they were not designed to be used against karate (or other MA) attacks in the manner in which they are generally trained in a number of karate systems, though that does not detract from their ability in such to bestow a number of positive combative and fitness benefits in the process.
I view uke techniques as ‘receiver’ techniques, they receive the other person’s attack. This means that they deflect, they intercept, they strike (potentially pre-emptively), they unbalance, they manipulate, they trap and they can even control.
In his ten precepts Anko Itosu wrote of Karate as being designed to defend oneself against a ruffian rather than engaging in challenge matches. As such in my own training I have chosen to orientate my study and application of uke techniques towards habitual acts of violence (HAOV). The recreation of HAOV in training and in the simulation of force on force individual and multiple person realistic self defence scenarios is something for which I am probably better known internationally than my karate articles and books. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a number of highly experienced martial artists from a broad range of martial arts disciplines as well as LEOs, military and security personnel, watch or participate in the training that I have run in this regard and endorse it. The applications I teach for uke techniques stem from the observations of what happens (and what works) in this form of training in addition to over a decade of the study of violent crime and associated supporting disciplines. Photographs for clarity of explanation in books and articles will illustrate my applications in a very static form (because they are for people learning the drills), but they are designed to be trained in the manner I describe here with progressive resistance, speed and unpredictability. Ultimately I believe in their effectiveness for self defence and would like to see those who learn them try them in situations such as illustrated in my training in the following video.
I’ve previously discussed the case for elements of grappling in karate here and I know that the conclusions I drew there are not unique. Karate is not purely a striking approach, nor is it purely a grappling approach, it is an approach that is orientated predominantly towards striking and striking is its preferred approach. To do this effectively against HAOV by necessity it contains techniques that are designed to navigate and extricate from the common ‘non percussive’ elements of fighting (such as grabbing and pulling, holding, barging, tackling attempted leg take downs etc) in order to strike, flee or control. In self defence situations the vast majority of conflict occurs at extremely close range and grabbing, clinching, pushing, barging and tackling are extremely common responses – even (and especially) amongst highly trained martial artists who have focused their training on maintaining distance. Long range stepping and attacking tend to occur most often when chasing a retreating person that has not been held, or on joining ‘another’ struggle to help a friend after dealing with an aggressor in a multiple person situation.
In my scenario simulations various patterns of behaviour emerge. I’m not referring to the HAOV of the role-playing aggressors, or the adrenal reactions of the surprised trainees who suddenly find themselves attacked while trying to defuse an argument, but in the patterns that successful counter tactics form. As part of the training the scenarios are videoed and the footage examined frame by frame to give feedback. What is consistently visible in the footage is that successful navigation and extraction of participants from the close quarter fighting comes through movements and stances that more closely resemble the strategies that are shown in karate kata, even amongst those participants who have no martial arts experience. In fact if I were to edit out the attacker from the video so that it appeared as if the defender were fighting thin air, then the resulting movements would look more akin to a kata than anything else seen in the martial arts. Those that have specifically trained to use the kata against HAOV on a regular basis do exceptionally well in such scenario training by using the kata practically. This pattern of both striking and ‘grappling’ (or anti-grappling if you prefer) on the part of both attacker and defender, and the resulting kata mirror, makes a further convincing case for both the need and presence of grappling and throwing in karate kata.
One of the most noticeable elements of karate kata is the relative paucity of ‘obvious’ striking techniques. In terms of overall quantity the majority of the kata are made up of uke receiving techniques combined with hikite pulling motions (and in some systems preparatory extended arm thrusting motions), then we have ‘obvious’ open and close handed thrusting / punching / striking motions and finally we have the emphasised kneeing or kicking techniques.
The idea that uke techniques are only ‘blocks’ and that their predominance in kata reflects the defensive nature of karate should be rejected for a number of reasons. Firstly, deflecting and blocking attacks is a largely instinctive action that does not require specialised movement, though as I outlined above training to deflect and parry attacks is not a waste of time. If you observe anyone shielding themselves against a committed attack outside of set prearranged sparring combinations, you will see them cover, parry, slap, duck or flinch (or any combination of those), and any time you see anything resembling part of a fixed uke technique it will be because the uke technique itself mimics natural movement. Secondly the best form of defence is offence, and that principle has been enshrined in martial writings across many cultures for centuries. A committed attack is not stopped by continuous deflection but by pattern disrupting behaviour that forces reaction and reorientation. Thirdly it is unlikely to be a coincidence that uke techniques function extremely well as striking, unbalancing, trapping and limb (and head) manipulation movements in stand up grappling. Finally it is incongruous that the majority of the movements being drilled in kata should be devoted to anything other than navigating the most common problems posed by violent incidents.
The requirement of good training to address the most common problems takes us back to the weighting of movements in the kata. When I look at the footage of the skilled and unskilled martial artists working to extricate themselves from close quarter force on force violent confrontations in the hundreds of scenario training simulations that I have run (whether on their own against a single assailant, against a group, or part of the chaos of multiple groups of people in an argument that has escalated to physical violence) the weighting of techniques and time is as follows in order of frequency:
- moving and manipulating others to gain a position from which to strike, control or escape (predominantly extracting oneself from multiple punches, grabs, high tackles and clinches),
- striking with the forearms, elbows or hands,
- kicking with the foot.
This distribution of movement mirrors the emphasis on techniques in the majority of karate kata, especially with the ability of most uke techniques to function as short close range strikes (often using the forearm) as well as stand up grappling (or grappling avoidance and escape) movements.
My approach to and interpretation of the application of uke techniques is neither new nor unique, and it is not the only valid approach. From my perspective though it is one that is underwritten by textual evidence from past generations of karateka and their antecedents, is orientated towards the purpose of karate as described by Anko Itosu, fits the uncomfortable realities of civilian self defence (as shown by CCTV footage, years of hospital emergency room data, decades of consistent violent crime surveys and reports, and accompanying psychological and physiological research into human behaviour), and is supported by the fact that entire uke techniques and indeed entire kata sequences can be applied realistically under pressure with other techniques (from the same kata) acting as effective redundancies in the event of less than optimal performance. A few photos in isolation (and possibly out of context without explanation) or a short video of a single application cannot convey its holistic integrity, appropriateness or effectiveness. If you really want to understand or judge my approach then you need to train with me.