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The thoughts and viewpoints on this blog are my own and represent my skeptical, critical-thinking approach to martial arts, combative training, film, the field of cognitive science, and random subjects.
Updated: 5 hours 51 min ago

THE GOOD OL' DAYS

Sat, 2016-04-30 17:33
THE GOOD OL' DAYS

"I like a man who grins when he fights."
Winston Churchill



The martial arts academy where I trained back in the 70s was like an early version of Fight Club. I know, I know. I'm not supposed to talk about it, but as this is the last article for my blog I thought it might be fun to look back one last time.  

This school, located in Nashville, Tennessee, had an open-door policy, and once a week on Saturday mornings anyone could drop by and spar. We had boxers, wrestlers, judoka, tough guy brawlers, and gung fu stylists all come in and test their skills. I had the chance to fight guys from lots of different karate styles including Wado Ryu, Shotokan, Isshin Ryu, Kyokushinkai and Goju Ryu. I also fought Korean stylists such as Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do fighters, and I even fought a guy with a background in Hapkido, one of my favorite styles.

We hated point-tournament type fighting, so it was mostly full-contact sparring, with standard, no foul rules. Takedowns and ground fighting were allowed. Safety gear was encouraged, with mouthpiece, boxing gloves, and groin protector mandatory. We all looked kinda goofy because the school's policy at that time was that you had to wear your cup on the outside of your pants to prove that you were wearing one. 

We had a loud timer set perpetually to 2 minutes with a 30 second rest between rounds. Most people would fight for a few rounds with the same person and then move on to another opponent. I liked to try my skills against a wide variety of styles, so I usually switched opponents every round or two. In a typical Saturday morning session we might fight 20 or 25 rounds, maybe more. We would shake hands at the beginning of a round, and then just go at it at the sound of the buzzer. 

You never knew what you might encounter. I remember one time getting slammed to the ground early on in the round by a college wrestler who shot in super fast with a beautiful double leg takedown technique. Another time, purely by luck, I did a spinning backfist and knocked out my rushing opponent about 1.5 seconds into the round! It was probably some kind of record at our academy, but I couldn't duplicate it again if I tried.

One day I fought a guy who had trained in Muay Thai and WKA-rules kickboxing which allowed leg kicks. Although I had sparred under these rules before, this was different. He was a superb craftsman, and he knew how to chisel away at the legs, weakening them and setting up higher kicks. He massacred my thighs, leaving big bruises up and down my legs and making me walk like the mummy from the old horror movies--step and slide, step and slide, step and slide--for several days after.

Another time there was a boxer, a Golden Gloves guy if I remember correctly, who practically tore me to pieces whenever he got on the inside. His combinations were incredible, and he rarely threw just one or two punches. I had to work really hard to keep him away by using stop kicks or tying him up in a tight clinch. 

Judo guys and wrestlers in general were the absolute worst. They were unbelievably strong, and they had well-muscled torsos and thick necks. Their fitness levels were through the roof--you could not make them tired if you tried! Plus if they ever got a grip on your triceps or wrists or the back of your neck, they could pull you in and down so fast it felt like you had whiplash. The main reason I started fighting shirtless back then was because I had been caught more than once by a vice-like grip grabbing my T-shirt. If they got a hold of you, forget it. Your were pretty much done for after that.

Knockouts happened. Frequently. We rarely had any serious injuries, but occasionally we had some guys who had to go to the emergency room for treatment. One guy had a ruptured spleen, and another time a guy broke his collar bone when he landed wrong after a hard takedown. Our goal was not to hurt one another, but to learn from one another. If somebody was an asshole and threw illegal shots or was a tad too rough, we had one fighter in our school who was an extreme badass. He would give the guy a quick lesson in respect, and the guy would self-correct or pack up and leave.

This was also the era of the "Tough Man" fights where amateurs could make a little money getting in the ring to lay it on the line for cash. A few big, burly guys dropped by from time to time to prepare for their fights. As a rule of thumb most of these guys weren't too fit. They didn't follow a disciplined training regime at all, and some of them were drinkers and smokers. But they hit really hard, and they were tough and wild, throwing big haymaker punches that would take your head off if they got lucky and connected.

We occasionally had some female fighters in open class. I sparred a female gung fu fighter one time who was incredible. She was very fast, and her high kicks were extremely accurate. At the end of a particularly intense round she shook my hand and thanked me for fighting her like she was "one of the guys." Apparently she wasn't used to this, and rarely got to show what she could do.

I learned so much about fighting during this time. I fought small, fast guys and big, slow guys. Within a few fights you learned pretty early on what usually worked and especially what failed miserably. Fancy was generally a mistake, and practical usually ruled the day. I learned to stay calm and cover up, keeping my knees bent, my chin low, my hands high, and my elbows in. I learned how to use footwork to move lightly and how to shift my weight to hit hard. Proper breathing was critical. I developed some go-to techniques, especially snappy jabs, sharp, fast sidekicks to the ribs, good clinching skills from Greco-Roman wrestling, and head and shoulder feints like a basketball player or a boxer might use. I learned to be confident but never cocky. Every time I started thinking I was any good some guy would quickly knock me back to my senses.

None of us wasted much time with form. We couldn't care less how we looked and instead focused on what worked. I'm not sure if any of us practiced kata, at least not seriously. Those robotic motions, we figured, would just get you creamed in a real fight. Every now and then we would fight what we called a "dojo warrior," or somebody who could look great performing a kata but had his ass handed to him when he put on the gloves. That's not to say that precision wasn't important. I knew one guy who was a stickler for form. He spent hours working on drills and practicing kata and getting his moves just right, and he was one of the best fighters I ever met. Most of us though simply didn't have his discipline and single-minded dedication.

My buddies and I spent time during the week honing what had worked and figuring out what didn't, building a solid repertoire of techniques. We did a lot (A LOT) of heavy bag work and calisthenics. We were early proponents of the little known type of explosive training that athletes behind the Iron Curtain were experimenting with. Called plyometrics, these exercises were terrific at building power and helping to avoid injuries. Most of us also did roadwork, with LSD (long, slow, distance) runs and sprint work at the local high school track. A few of us worked out with weights, although this was generally frowned upon at the time. I went to the gym with a friend of mine, and we had a simple weight lifting routine we followed. Nothing like today of course, but cutting edge back then nevertheless.

Most of the time the Saturday morning sessions were routine. A lot of the same guys, regulars I guess you'd call them, dropped by frequently. Some guys we'd see only once, or once in a blue moon. 

Every now and then the routine would be interrupted by something weird. 

A truly weird moment occurred the time I fought the guy I called "The Narcissist." One wall of our academy had big ceiling-to-floor mirrors, and while this guy was fighting me, I shit you not, he was watching himself in the mirror the entire time! He couldn't take his eyes off of his image in the mirror. Thus, I pretty much hit him at will. I said, "Hey, why don't you look at your opponent when you're fighting?" He said that he was just checking his form, to make sure he was getting it right. I suggested that his form might be okay, but we'd never find out if he didn't get in the game. I'd throw a kick and get him right in the ribs, or I'd throw a punch combination and hit him with each strike, but still he just stared at the mirror. I'd knock him down, but even when he was on the ground or trying to get up, he'd be watching himself. He gave me the creeps, so I bowed out before the first round was over.

Another time I had a really wacky fight. Before we started the round the guy I was fighting told me that he had been training to fight in the dark. In order to improve those skills he usually trained with a blindfold on. He asked me if I would tie his blindfold, but I refused. So he said he would fight with his eyes closed. You're probably not gonna believe this, but he didn't fight so well that way. He couldn't hear my moves above the din of all the fighters, which made him a sitting duck. What a loon. I'm not sure, but I think he was dain bramaged.

These were strange times. While most of us wore loose fitting athletic pants with no shirt while we were working out, some people wore some pretty odd clothing. For example one guy showed up in a ninja costume with his face covered and wearing those tabi shoes, the ones with the individual toes. Another guy fought while wearing a shiny, gold-colored satin gung fu uniform. My favorite was the guy who came in wearing jungle fatigues, sans patches, and a black beret. I asked him if he was a US Army Ranger, but he said that he "couldn't talk about it," as if he was on some super-secret clandestine mission. 

I don't consider myself a fighter per se, never did--just never was that competitive or had much of a killer instinct I guess. My skills were moderate at best, but I was persistent and worked hard. I guess I was tenacious, but most of the time I was less focused on winning and instead concentrated on learning and improving. My nose bled too easily for me to be much of a fighter. I got knocked down, and I got knocked out a few times. I was choked out on more than one occasion. That taught me to protect myself. But I also learned to take calculated risks, and I was sneaky. 

I have been around some incredibly talented martial artists through the years, guys who had more talent in their little finger than I had in my entire body. I would always watch and learn, stealing a trick here and a move there. 

I have a profound respect for fighters and for highly talented martial artists and combat experts. I was never much into team sports and generally only followed combative sports like boxing, wrestling, fencing and Judo. I was so excited in the mid 90s when NHB arrived on the scene. This was the culmination of what I had been preaching for decades, and I felt vindicated when MMA started growing into one of the fastest growing sports in the world. 

Even now in my 60s as I have slowed down considerably, I still like to do some combat training from time to time. My speed is still there, and in some respects my power has improved. But my endurance is crap, and my recovery takes weeks, not days. My knees are shot, and my joints ache. But every now and then I feel energy racing through my old muscles, and I will throw some combinations and yearn for the good times when I was a sweaty, bruised and battered, grinning young man.














WHY AREN'T YOU BOXING

Mon, 2016-04-18 01:55
WHY AREN'T YOU BOXING?

"The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It's the same thing, fear, but it's what you do with it that matters."
Cus D'Amato, Legendary Trainer



"If you screw things  up in tennis, it's 15-Love. If you screw up in boxing, it's your ass."Tex Cobb

My dad, who used to be a boxer back in the 50s, took me to the Nashville, Tennessee fairgrounds coliseum to watch a local boxing tournament when I was 13 years old. I had seen boxing on TV plenty of times but never up close where you can actually hear the oomph of a body shot and the smack of a glove on an opponent's cheek bone. 

I was, and always have been, a boxing fan, and I consider boxing to be the second most important of all the martial arts (with wrestling/grappling being number one).

Here's the deal with boxing. Go to a boxing gym and watch the athletes train. You won't hear a bunch of what-if scenario talk. You won't see them dealing with hypothetical situations or discussing theory. They deal with the practical. They train for the fight, nothing else.

I love the inside of a boxing gym. The sound of the speed bag and the jump rope and the round bell, the smells of sweat and disinfectant, the sharp instructions from trainers. There's nothing like it. Where most martial arts academies are sterile and organized, the boxing gym is chaotic. There is a stoic, single-minded devotion to the preparation at hand for the next looming fight.

And don't get me started on their fitness. I remember in the early 80s when I used to be a pretty good runner. Back in those days I ran every morning and sometimes again in the afternoon. I ran to Shelby Park, made a complete loop, and ran back. One day I met up with some professional boxers who were jogging in combat boots. I tried to hang with them, but they just kept going. Five miles in I was pretty much spent, and when I turned to head home they were still at it. They didn't even look tired. 

I had met these boxers at the martial arts academy where I taught classes. The academy was a multi-purpose fitness center which housed my classes, a fully-equipped gymnasium, a competitive table tennis school and a power lifting gym. It also had a full-size boxing ring and an area for a dozen or more heavy bags and speed bags. We all used the same equipment, it's just that the boxers who trained there had a no-nonsense approach to training that just didn't quite translate to my group of kickboxing students. I think that for the most part the boxers approached what they did as a job. It put food on the table. My guys and I just did what we did as a hobby. The fighters were all lean and muscled and had a flame-like intensity in their eyes.  

In the Army a few years later I got to train side by side with members of the military boxing team in Germany. These guys were soldiers first and boxers second. But most of them were good enough to compete at a high level and really didn't don the uniform much at all except for mandatory training and formations. One thing I remember was their power. I could hit the heavy bag pretty hard, but they seemed to hit harder and with less effort.

I watched what they did, and I tried to mimic their moves. The way they managed their energy, the way they moved around lightly without wasted motion, the way they shot out their punches and snapped them back to an on guard position. Chins down, knees bent, hands up, body coiled like a cobra. No one-punch wonders, these guys threw two- and three-move combinations. High/low, low/high, inside and outside. Conservative but constant footwork and subtle body and head shifts that kept the opponent guessing.

One of the boxers and I became friends. When he rotated back to the States he gave me his 16oz training gloves. He used to tell me, "Ron, you gotta hit with your toes." He meant that the power of the punch travels up through the pivot of the toes, through the unwinding body, and down through the snapping, outstretched arm. I had felt some of his punches while wearing a thick head guard. It truly felt like his hands were made of stone. His jab felt like my power punch. While I could absorb one or two of his body blows, I couldn't take a barrage, and he knew how to rain the punches down and hit exactly where you weren't protecting.

Why do I love boxing and respect it as a preeminent martial art?

  • The common sense, no nonsense approach
  • A small but lethal repertoire of techniques
  • Tight yet graceful footwork
  • The ability to move in all directions without getting tripped up
  • The intensity of their training and the way that nothing they do is superlative or fancy
  • What they do in the gym is preparation for what they do in the ring
  • Courage and fearlessness
  • Ability to withstand punishment
  • Speed, power, and accuracy
  • Tremendous conditioning
  • Acceptance of critical commentary by coaches and trainers
  • Dedication, both in and out of the gym
  • The scientific process they use to remove extraneous motion 
  • The respect they show other fighters
I used to tell martial arts fighters that they wouldn't last a round with a professional boxer. They would laugh at me and brag about their skills. When PKA and WKA kickboxing arrived, and martial artists started putting on gloves and getting in the ring, they found out fairly quickly that they had been approaching their training completely wrong.

I even knew a few kickboxers who were really just boxers who had learned to throw enough kicks to satisfy the rules. They ended up doing pretty well in the sport. 

In my own training, mostly just for fitness nowadays, I revert back to boxing time and again. I love to hit the heavy bag, shadow box, work the speed bag. No sparring these days, but I sure miss it. Miss the discipline, miss the camaraderie, miss the contact.

If I had one piece of advice to share with up and coming fighters, it would be this: Learn to box. Never stop learning how to box. Keep your hands up and your chin down. Keep your knees bent, and move lightly on the balls of your feet.

And hit with your toes. 



DIRTY LAUNDRY

Sat, 2016-04-02 21:30
DIRTY LAUNDRYMARTIAL ARTS' DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS
“Frank Abagnale could write a check on toilet paper, drawn on the Confederate States Treasury, sign it ‘U.R. Hooked’ and cash it at any bank in town, using a Hong Kong driver’s licence for identification.” Chief of Police, Houston, Texas
Moses Pray: 'I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples?'Addie Loggins: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!' From the movie "Paper Moon"

The psychology of persuasion is a fascinating topic. If you ever watched the movie "Cath Me if You Can," about the legendary con-man Frank Abagnale, you may have thought it was all mostly exaggerated by Hollywood. But the truth of the matter is Abignale fooled lots and lots of people. The "con" in con-man comes from the word "confidence," and Abagnale had loads of it. He convinced people that he was a pilot for a major airline, head of surgery at a top notch hospital, a knowledgeable attorney, and even an agent for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He understood human psychology perhaps better than a professional therapist, and he grasped the concept of persuasion better than a convention hall full of salespeople. 

Abagnale eventually went on to become an expert on the other side of the law, assisting law enforcement agencies in tracking down forgers, thieves and other impostors. In his current capacity he has revealed some of the dirty little secrets that confidence men use to separate people from their money.

I just read about an interesting scam that has apparently fooled more than one gullible person in the UK. Here's how it works:

Step 1: The assistant walks into a shop, explains that he lost his expensive glass eye earlier, and offers a £1,000 reward. He leaves his (fake) number, just in case.Step 2: Later, the con enters with a glass eye he claims was on the floor. The shopkeeper naturally wants to look after it but the con insists on returning it.Step 3: Thinking of the reward, the shopkeeper offers to buy it for £250. The con and assistant split the takings, and the shopkeeper gets a cheap glass eye.Abagnale, as you can imagine, is not alone. The world is full of people who, without conscience and without a shred of decency, will gladly take your hard-earned money and give you back, if you are lucky, the equivalent of snake oil. In fact you may be surprised to find out that the worId of martial arts, where trim, athletic men and women exhibit amazing fighting prowess and exemplify the epitome of honor and self-discipline, is also filled with con-men, swindlers, hustlers, flim-flam artists, and shysters.

I have seen it with my own two eyes. I have observed con-men in martial arts uniforms fleece the gullible, and I have wondered why they get away with it time and time again.

My guess is that they, much like Abagnale and other swindlers, exude confidence and are able to persuade and manipulate people with their knowledge of human behavior. They not only display self-confidence, they help others to become more confident, and they gain their trust. They have a natural ability to intuit weakness and insecurity in others, and they have learned to exploit those fears and emotions. With absolute conviction they will look another person straight in the eye and make bold promises. They use active listening, body language, false friendship, and other tactics to help the targeted individuals to open up and drop their guard. 

They may also take advantage of the seedier side of humanity--the greed, the lust for power and influence--and they may help people to come to believe that they can help them achieve their goals.
I hate to see people get fleeced. It bothers me that this type of behavior occurs right under the noses of concerned parents who want the best for their child and who search out a martial arts academy to help their child succeed. It concerns me when they hear empty promises and false claims. 

Not all martial arts schools participate in this type of behavior. Many are active in organizations who are careful to weed out bad behavior and avoid any semblance of false advertising or illegal activity. 

But a few, perhaps more than a few, have no such scruples. In fact, many of the things that legitimate academies do are often counterfeited by scam artists.

Here are a few examples I have encountered in my almost five decades of martial arts training:

1. Belt ranking, uniform patches and testing: I had a friend who was an Eagle Scout, a unique achievement in scouting and a true honor. He was intelligent, competent, poised and knowledgeable about life in general. I admired him and his years of devotion and dedication. When I asked him about his scouting experience he told me that for the most part it was very positive: The hiking, the camping, the exposure to nature. He enjoyed learning about what he called "cool boy activities," making a fire, pitching a tent, and learning first aid for example. But he also told me that there was a lot of tedious activities as well as he worked towards earning required merit badges, literal symbols to be worn on the uniform. 

Some martial arts academies have discovered the power of patches. As students participate in self-defense classes or nunchaku seminars or demo teams, they earn patches to be worn on the uniform. Not necessarily a bad thing, that is unless each activity costs money, in which case the richest kids often end up with the coolest uniforms.

As the student progresses at his or her academy he or she is often awarded a new belt, usually starting at white belt and culminating in the coveted black belt itself. Along the way the student may earn 4, 5, or more colored belts. In some cases there are stripes in between. So a student may be orange belt, third striped. It can be quite complicated, but the student usually knows what he or she needs to know in order to earn the next belt.  

None of this should automatically be suspicious. It helps to know each student's skill level. This ensures that the student is safely matched against others with similar skill levels, and it helps to motivate the student to progress. Unfortunately it all to often comes with a steep price. Each testing or grading event costs money. Each piece of a cheap roll of tape can be expensive. 

My advice is to watch the black belts, and especially the youngest black belts, in action. If they have sharp skills, power, poise, and accuracy, if they can confidently display athleticism and agility, balance and stamina, and if they have intensity and focus, then the rank is legit. If, on the other hand, they stumble and look confused, have trouble focusing, cannot effectively demonstrate skill, then the school is not legit. I remember one rather shady martial artist telling me one time, "My car note is due--time for another testing!"

2. Promises: Who wouldn't want their child to make good grades in school, to be self-confident, respectful and to resist the temptation to use drugs. Some desperate parents turn to the martial arts academy that makes claims about what they can do for the child. How they can teach a child to say "yes ma'am and no ma'am" or "please and thank you." How they can train a child to be obedient and willing to do chores. I'll never forget the academy I visited where the young kids shouted loud and in unison about being a CHAMPION. "A 'champion' in what?" I asked the head instructor. "A champion in life!" he responded.

Martial arts was not always a systematized grouping of specific skill sets. Instead it was handed down father to son and warrior to warrior as part of a tribe's need to ensure survival. Real battlefield fighting skill was what was needed, not some clean, sterile, devoid-of-intensity, by-the-numbers display of technique. It has evolved into something else entirely. It is an art form. It is a means to teach confidence. It is a way to brainwash obedience to authority.

When the martial arts school becomes a daycare, when "fighting" becomes a bad word, when the student can utter long creeds and tenets but is unable to defend himself or herself, then the school is focused on the wrong thing, and the student is being charged good money based on false promises.

3. Tournaments: I believe in the sports mantra that competition breeds competence. Without competing, measuring one's skills against another, it may be difficult to determine one's progress and achievement. For combat sports such as fencing, wrestling, boxing, judo and BJJ, competition serves as a necessary vehicle to move the practitioner forward and to hone one's skills against a resisting opponent. 

However, a few crafty individuals have learned that there is a lot of money to be made in tournaments. In some cases the tournament is a 'closed' tournament, not open to outsiders or other schools. In this case there is no fear that a participant will be outclassed. The tournament is controlled, and everyone is a winner. The student comes home with a trophy that is larger than he is, but he has not learned a thing. There was no risk. There was no real chance to lose. There was no opportunity to learn and grow and feel challenged. Moms and dads payed out a lot of money, but it might as well have been flushed down the toilet.

4. Unique abilities and special courses: Too often I have seen special "closed-door" seminars where a travelling instructor will teach things such as no-touch knockouts or chi development. While there is not scientific evidence that chi exists or that one can master this power or life-force to hurt or heal others, that does not stop shysters from making wild claims and charging exorbitant fees to learn their secret skills.

A new type of course I have been seeing recently bothers me personally. As a combatives instructor who has introduced legitimate fighting skill to a large number of students in otherwise traditional schools, it concerns me that there are scam artists now offering "commando" fighting courses, military camps or special ninjitsu classes. The students may be encouraged to buy camouflaged uniforms or special equipment or t-shirts in order to participate. They pay extra fees to attend and advance and become certified in these courses. As long as the knowledge is legitimate and adds true value, no worries. But when it becomes just one more source of income for the school, and the student is merely doing cosplay, it is a scam and a gimmick.

5. False history and faked qualifications: Used to be that it was relatively easy to create a false background, forge a false certificate, and fooling people about who they are and what they have achieved. Now, with the internet, it is much more difficult. With a few clicks you can learn quite a bit about an individual, and you can root out faslehoods. But some people have learned to side step the searches. They may show you amazing bios and enough certificates to cover a wall. They may make claims about being a world champion or being an instructor in the military. My advice is to watch and listen. See if the instructor cares about his students, is concerned about their safety and the quality of instruction. See if the instructor helps to instill knowledge and provide opportunities to grow and be challenged in keeping with the students' ability. What they show you can be much louder than what they tell you. Make sure you're getting your money's worth before you sign a lengthy and costly contract.

6. Certification: There is an allure to gaining knowledge. To believe that one is among an elite, with special knowledge that is not known by the masses, can be seductive.  The certificate, and especially the instructor's certificate, is a tremendous tool in keeping the student coming back for more. Most of the time, I see no issue in this. But if the student is already paying to attend a seminar, charging extra for the certificate seems wrong to me. Also, if the certificate comes from a legitimate organization, or a solid individual, and the certificate is earned, then I agree wholeheartedly in the practice. If the certificate comes with a reasonable fee, again I have no issue. But when the certificate is suspicious, signifies nothing, is recognized by no one else outside of a small circle, and when it costs a considerable amount, then I am immediately suspicious.

7. Proprietary equipment: Some academies insist that each student must purchase specific equipment, and they also insist that this equipment MUST be purchased in house. This is not always a ruse. Sometimes the academy or chain of academies want to maintain quality control, or perhaps they can purchase in bulk and pass the discounts on to their students. However, this is not always the case. In some cases the student could buy the exact same equipment elsewhere and save money. I do not agree with the practice of over charging a student for equipment he or she will need to safety practice the art.

In conclusion: Not every martial arts instructor is part of a scam. Most are professionals who want the best for their students. But look for the wolf in sheep's clothing and remember Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware. 



LET IT GO

Sat, 2016-03-12 18:16
LET IT GO"It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday."Boyz II Men
For a very brief moment in the late Sixties I toyed around with the idea that Atlantis was a real, historic place, and that it was the source of wisdom, knowledge, and unbelievable technological marvels. The inspiration (or the blame) for this interest was the hit song "Atlantis" by Donovan. 

The song starts off with a long, spoken word segment in which Donovan talks about the god-like beings who populated the island of Atlantis, and who, just before the island was destroyed by natural disasters, went out to "all corners of the Earth."

It was fun using my imagination, trying to see in my mind's eye what Atlantis looked like and what marvelous inventions they had discovered. But, here's the thing, I was a young teenager, just goofing around. I did not seriously believe that Donovan's song was based on factual evidence. I knew that it was all make believe. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has come to this realization.

Take David Hatcher Childress for example. Childress, a "maverick archeologist" who fancies himself a "real life Indiana Jones" wrote the following about Atlantis:

"In the book A Dweller On Two Planets, first dictated in 1884 by Phylos the Thibetan to a young Californian named Frederick Spencer Oliver, as well as in a 1940 sequel, An Earth Dweller Returns, there is mention of such inventions and devices as air conditioners to overcome deadly and noxious vapors; airless cylinder lamps, tubes of crystal illuminated by the night side forces; electric rifles, guns employing electricity as a propulsive force (rail-guns are similar, and a very new invention); mono-rail transportation; water generators, an instrument for condensing water from the atmosphere; and the Vailx, an aerial ship governed by forces of levitation and repulsion."

He's not alone. Lots of people believe that wise men from ancient times were way ahead of us in technology and enlightenment. Or maybe they weren't wise "men" after all. Perhaps they were aliens. 

That's essentially what Raelianism teaches. This movement, philosophy, religion (take your pick) teaches that life on our planet was created long ago by extraterrestrial scientists, or "Elohim." Great men of the past and prophets such as Jesus or Buddha were Elohim.

And don't forget Erich von Daniken, he of the bestselling book Chariots of the Gods, which "proved" that ancient astronauts had visited earth and influenced culture and technology.

There is a general belief--among many people who should know better--that we here in the present are merely rediscovering what our much wiser ancestors had already discovered. These marvelous ancestors were smarter, wiser, and nobler than we are now. They lived in peace and in harmony with nature. They communicated telepathically and had figured out how to rid themselves of war. They were healthy, and they lived long, enriched lives in comfort and splendor. They were sophisticated when it came to advanced mathematics and science, and they may have harnessed unique energy sources beyond our current ability to understand.

Sadly, they were all wiped out. Floods, earthquakes, disease, what have you, erased all but the most vague clues and hints. Seems they couldn't predict the future or figure out how to survive catastrophes.

Looking back to the past for clues on how to face the future is not all bad. We could all learn a thing or two about survival from ancestors who faced down hungry saber tooth tigers and hunted powerful mastodons with primitive weapons.

But the people of the past didn't have all the answers. They managed to perilously cling to life against man and beast, but they didn't know diddly squat about germs and hygiene. If they were severely hurt in battle or mauled taking down game they most likely didn't live very long afterwards. Dirty water and infection probably killed off a good number of the members of any given tribe.

Doesn't matter. There are plenty of people who believed that our early ancestors had a much better diet than we do now, and that they were fitter and healthier and didn't have to bother with weight lifting, gym memberships and treadmills. There is some element of truth to this. When they left the cave each morning to head off to work they weren't sure if they'd make it back home safely or end up as an item on the buffet table.

But we have benefits they couldn't even begin to imagine. We have the knowledge of science and modern medicine to help us navigate through the dangers of modern life. We know how to observe, gather evidence, and use experimentation to figure out problems. We don't have to keep looking to the past to try to figure out how to handle the future.

And that brings us to my point. Shakespeare, in The Tempest, Act 2, scene 1, writes:

     (And by that destiny) to perform an act
     Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come,
     In yours and my discharge.

When most people read this they focus on the three words "past is prologue." They think that the past foretells the future and that if you really want to know what's what or what's next you need to look back on what's already happened.

I disagree. I like what enote says in explaining this scene, "What's already happened merely sets the scene for the really important stuff, which is the stuff our greatness will be made on."(*)

Those people who think that the so-called paleo diet is the way to go are misled. Sure, eating less processed foods may be beneficial. And who could argue with a diet that emphasizes eating more greens? But trying to eat like a paleolithic human misses the fact that a lot of evolution has occurred in the interim, not only to the plants and animals we like to eat but also to our own bodies.

Or to those martial artists who are always trying to figure out what the great men of the past knew about fighting, I want to (and I can't believe I'm actually saying this) tell them what Queen Elsa sang in the movie "Frozen": "Let it go, let it go! Turn away and slam the door...it's time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through."

So, forget antiquated, outdated training methods. LET IT GO!

First up, KATA, those pre-arranged sequences of complicated, symbolic and even "secret" moves assembled by famous karateka of the past, or those elaborate 'flow drills' used by a lot of modern 'combatives' instructors? 

Let it go. Let your training come alive, and add improvisation. Think in terms of loosely organized action sequences that have built in flexibility and adaptability. I have nothing against patterned responses. They help the practitioner to develop muscle memory. But a little goes a long way. If you must practice patterns, at least make sure you don't practice unrealistic moves that'll get you killed. By the way? They kinda sorta look silly.

ONE-STEP SPARRING, where the attacker throws a punch and then freezes while the defender goes to town with elaborate responses? 

Let it go. Introduce reality into your training. Embrace resistance, chaos, and unpredictability. Attackers don't stand still. You won't be able to execute flawless movements in the heat of battle. There are too many unknowns. Wake up and drink the coffee.

BREAKING, where the practitioner takes approximately fifteen minutes to set up punch or a kick with people who hold a piece or a stack of pieces of wood, or carefully arranges a group of bricks or blocks of ice, so that he or she can demonstrate precision and power? 

Let it go. We're no longer impressed. It'll be unlikely that you can call your shots in a real fight. Look, William Tell, you probably won't have an opportunity to hit a stationary target.

HOLLYWOOD FIGHT SEQUENCES, which are elaborately planned and choreographed, action-filled movements? 

Let it go. Okay, keep them in the movies. They're lots of fun, and, when they're good, the move the story line along and help develop the characters. But trying to do them as part of a demo team at the mall is kinda like false advertising. No one fights like that. Fighting is not a paint-by-numbers, 1-2-3, A-B-C sequence. It's dirty. It's violent. It definitely ain't pretty. If you want to be in the spotlight, join the cast at the dinner theater.

FUNNY SELF-DEFENSE SKITS, which are seen more and more at strip-mall dojos, in which people use props and costumes and silly scenarios to demonstrate, say, a granny defending herself against a gang of thugs?

Let it go. Please. It's embarrassing. And, worse, it's not cute, and it's not even funny.

POINT SPARRING?

Let it go. It makes no sense to be moving around and throwing punches and kicks and then stopping the action so that some judges can interpret the force and accuracy of the fighters trajectory and determine if the technique would have (if it was allowed to make contact) injured or even killed the opponent. It's often subjective, interrupts the flow of the action, and bears no resemblance to real fighting. I hope I have made my point.

NUNCHUCKS/NUNCHAKU?

Let it go. This was so 70s, and like that other fad of the 70s, DISCO, it needs to be swept under the rug and erased from our collective memories. Wanna twirl something? Get a baton and join a marching band.

NINJITSU?

Let it go. There's scant evidence they ever existed. Even if they did they didn't know magic. They couldn't control minds or disappear in a cloak of invisibility. Want to become a warrior and own the night? Join the Army Rangers!

SHAOLIN MONKS?

Let it go. Like the ninja, there isn't much evidence to prove they were real. There is no denying that the guys who dress up and put on shows at tourist attractions are talented as hell. Fit, acrobatic, and amazing. But, it's not real fighting. They bend arrows with their neck muscles. They try to drill holes in their skulls. This probably rarely happens in a real fight.

CAMOUFLAGED COMBATIVES WARRIORS?

Let it go. I know lots of guys who like to call themselves warriors. They carry lots of knives, like to teach weapon disarms, and go around in public with guns on their hips. They seem to love violence, and are always itching for a fight. Like to brag about their altercations. Have long stories about brushes with the law, or barfights with bikers, or being "elite." But, here's the thing--I always wonder why they don't enlist. Heck, the Marines are probably still looking for a few good men. Raise your hand, say the oath, and make Sam your Uncle.

PRESSURE-POINT "CHI" MASTERS?

Let it go. I have long said ix-nay on the i-chay. I have railed against the charlatans who con people out of their hard-earned money, promising to teach magical, mystical, mysterious techniques to render an attacker unconscious. They have been debunked, but the do not care. They always find some gullible person who wants to believe in 'the force' to fight real or imagined enemies. They show how to use a kiai to stop an attacker dead in his tracks. Or they reveal a secret set of techniques (known to ancient Egyptians or the people of Atlantis) that can cripple a bad guy with little or no force. They are experts at packaging up and selling exquisite bullshit.

FEAR-MONGERING SURVIVALISTS?

Let it go. They believe the world is coming to an end. They believe in natural or man-made catastrophes that will wipe out modern civilization. They may believe in a Biblical Apocalypse or a Zombie plague. They hoard supplies and stockpile weapons. They plan for bugging out when the shit hits the fan. And mostly they're just plain nuts. Don't get me wrong. Preparation makes sense. Having a plan is a sensible idea. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis are real worries. An asteroid or comet strike on the earth is feasible. The explosion of a super volcano, like the one under Yellowstone, is not so much an IF as a WHEN. But some of these people WANT it to happen, yearn for the days when they will be among the living, eking it out, battling the neighbors. Avoid them, well, like the plague.



















NEW AND IMPROVED

Thu, 2016-03-10 21:11
NEW AND IMPROVED"beep...beep...beep..."
Sputnik I
It's hard to imagine now, but waaaaaay back in 1957, a small, beeping, spherical-shaped object scared the absolute heck out of Americans. Weighing only 184 pounds, a little less than a manhole cover, it was about the size of an inflatable beach ball. Nevertheless it caused considerable paranoia and panic as it hurtled across the nighttime sky.

The object that caused so much consternation was Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. While it remained in orbit it circled the globe every 98 minutes, passing over America seven times a day. 


It was launched by America's Cold War enemy at the time, the Soviet Union, and it appeared that the Soviets now had the upper hand in the arms race. Thus some people thought it just might drop "THE BOMB," as it was known back then, on their heads. 

Of course nothing of the sort ever happened, but for awhile, the fear was tangible. But there was a silver lining amidst this troubling time. Because of the fear and foreboding stirred up by this little beeping object, there was a newly realized interest in technology. What was sorely needed was a reformed educational system that emphasized mathematics, science and engineering. More of a revolution than a mere reform, U.S. school children began learning physics and chemistry with a profound sense of playing catch-up, and the slide rule and the pocket protector became more and more ubiquitous.

Enter New Math

I'd wager that the name Nicolas Bourbaki is unfamiliar to 99% of Americans. Most of us couldn't pick out Bourbaki's face from a group photo. And yet Bourbaki was key in helping to formulate and systematize mathematics in a profoundly new, and perhaps frustrating, way.

Science historian Amir Aczel called Bourbaki "the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century," who changed how we thought about mathematics and as the person who "was responsible for the emergence of 'New Math' that swept through American education in the middle of the century." Aczel went on to say the Bourbaki helped to lay the foundation for modern mathematics with his towering, seminal work.

But here's what's so weird--the genius Bourbaki, author of dozens of books, didn't actually exist. Instead "Nicolas Bourbaki" was the nom de plume used by a secret society of mathematicians who attempted to reorganize, clarify, systematize, and modify what they perceived to be outdated practices in the teaching of mathematics. No one past the age of 50 was allowed to enter or stay in this society so as to prevent old, antiquated ways of the past from solidifying.

Was it a success? Depends, really, on who you ask. Straightdope.com, (one of my favorite sites, whose primary goal is to "fight ignorance"), says that the new math of the sixties was "disruptive, despised, and moderately beneficial." In fact, they say that it is still around although incognito.

Traditionally mathematics, especially at the primary school level, was taught by "telling" students what to do. Students would memorize multiplication tables and learn math concepts by rote. There was a lot of busy work where students would complete tasks dozens and dozens of times. No one, it seems, really took the time to instill a new way of thinking mathematically. And that's where new math came in. Hoping that students would begin thinking differently about the language of math and enjoy a sense of discovery, new math was more abstract than practical.

And, by and large, parents and students universally hated it.

I can relate. In my early years I was taught using new math learning concepts, and I struggled for years to absorb more than an elementary mathematical knowledge. My dad, who never even completed high school, could run circles around me in arithmetic and practical mathematics, and he could use a slide rule like nobody's business.  

It wasn't until much later that I had a teacher who helped me to get past my math anxiety and who helped me to begin thinking in terms of mathematics as a form of symbolic language. In some ways I would say that this teacher actually applied new math principles to help me. Maybe it was a NEW new math approach. At any rate I slowly began to enjoy rather than dread numbers.

Enter Martial Arts

Phew. All of what I have said about math, new math, and a novel way of thinking and teaching brings me to one of my favorite subjects:  Martial arts.

For most of my almost five decades of martial arts and combatives training I have long felt that the instruction of these skills is antiquated, rigid and stuck in the past. Similar to what the Bourbaki society did with mathematics, I have attempted to bring a new, fresh approach to learning the skills and skill-sets of fighting. That's why I created the P.U.M.A. (Practical Urban Martial Arts) method.

So, you ask, what the heck is P.U.M.A.? First of all P.U.M.A. is not a style. Instead it is a methodology, one that uses a rational, logical, progressive and common sense approach. The first word, "practical," pretty much says it all. Everything about what I teach makes the information as practical, useful, user friendly, efficient and effective as possible. 

Some people don't like the next word, "urban," thinking that it leaves out those who live in the country or the suburbs or who might inexplicably find themselves needing to fight and survive in, say, a rain forest or on a glacier. Notice I am not using the word "urbane," which means polished or smooth and has a connotation of pretentiousness. 

What, then, do I mean by urban? Well, let me tell you first about one of the most familiar street cons in New Orleans. There you are, staggering around after drinking your third slushy hurricane, when you are approached by a charming kid who offers to make what appears to be a simple, straightforward wager. He says he'll bet you $10 that he can tell you where you got your shoes. Knowing full well that you live nowhere near NOLA and that, in your drunken state you can't even remember where you live, much less bought your shoes, you take the bet. He then tells you that you got your shoes "on your feet on Bourbon street." Oh well, a bet's a bet, and you'll look like a schmuck if you don't part with the money. 

So, when I use the word urban, I'm really talking about where you got your shoes. Since over half of the world's population now lives in urban areas, there's a good bet that this also applies to people who train in martial arts/combatives. We, most of us, live in villages, towns, cities or mega-city cosmopolitan areas. We go to school, go to work, shop and dine mostly in urban areas. That's all I mean when I use the word. We need to train for circumstances which we're likely to encounter, where we got our shoes so to speak, thus urban training.

Then there's the oft-repeated term "martial arts." Some people hate this word. They feel like it has too much in common with strip-mall dojos that are all about black-belt-clubs, demo teams, board breaking, striped belts, and a constant cycle of fee-based testing. And sure, much of the world now associates all martial arts with a loud, cringe-inducing "KEE YAH" shout and the universal code, a karate chop.

Arguably there has been a gradual shift over the last decade or so to respected, effective, highly-disciplined, multi-sourced fighting skills all under the "mixed martial arts" tent. So I think the term generally has a positive, even wildly popular, connotation.

Martial Arts' New Math

So P.U.M.A., or better still, the new and improved training methodology at the heart of P.U.M.A., is like the new math response to Sputnik I. As the information age now has top-notch skills available at the click of a mouse, it is important to have an approach to learning that goes beyond the mere acquisition and rote replication and memorization of information. What is needed is an understanding of the theory of personal aggression, a conceptual grasp of the principles of combatives, and a method of acquiring and adapting skills in order to modify behavior towards progressive objectives with lasting, measurable and experiential benefits. 

How is this done? First of all, we follow the 3P approach to learning. Keep in mind that some skills are solitary in nature with self-development as one of the primary goals. Learning to paint, for example, or learning how to play the piano. Can one actually say they have learned everything there is to know about art or music by taking a few lessons? No. One could spend a lifetime, nay, multiple lifetimes (see the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day") in learning all the intricacies and developing all of the knowledge and skill available. All most people want, non-professionals anyway, is a modicum of understanding and a competent skill level to be able to play a piano or paint a canvas for enjoyment without looking like a doofus. One may sign up for martial arts classes with this goal, self-development, in mind, and martial arts delivers.

Some skills are participatory in nature. Take tennis for example or billiards. These activities require skill; however, they are generally played with others. There are rule-based norms associated with these activities so that the individuals know what to expect. The skills and supplemental knowledge acquired to improve these skills are generally about improving one's performance. Competition, it is said, breeds competence. Martial arts can be approached this way, and again martial arts delivers.

A few skills are improvisational in nature. Often there is a sense of risk also associated with these skills. Take mountain climbing for example. One wouldn't dream of tackling a cliff face without adequate preparation, long hours of training and practice, and the right equipment. Even then the dangers are real and should not be approached with a trivial, devil-may-care attitude. It is my contention that combatives, the personal protection aspect of martial arts, in fact the heart and soul of ancient warfare arts, is also driven by improvisation and planted firmly in risk and potential danger.

In Part II I will share my philosophy of the training methodology that I have used to teach hundreds of soldiers and civilians over the last several decades.