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conflict management and practical karate
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De-escalation Tactics – Part Two

Fri, 2015-09-04 08:52

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology



This is such a huge topic that it seems trite to try and narrow it down to a simple set of guidelines that will help people. Some people don’t need (much) advice or training. They already have the ‘gift of the gab’ and can smoothly talk their way out of trouble under pressure or indeed talk another person out of trouble.

Unfortunately if you are not naturally talented then the best way to improve is practice. Real practice comes with risk and potential cost and in any case unless your job requires it your primary aim should be to avoid putting yourself in situations where de-escalation skills are required. Despite that, the underlying principles of good de-escalation are those of good communication, and those are skills that we can all work on all the time.

What you say will depend on the circumstances. I can’t tell you exactly what to say. What I can do is share a teaching mnemonic that I use to outline underlying approaches. This mnemonic is deliberately simple, with each headline word conveying an overall message and each heading letter summarising a number of different skill sets.



We want to read a situation accurately so that we can lead it to a successful or safe resolution by achieving a deal that both parties can accept.

RECOGNISE if a verbal strategy is viable or appropriate under the circumstances.

EXPECT a physical response at all times and maintain alertness and a safe posture.

ADAPT your tone, volume and phrasing to that of the other person and if possible use to build a connection for good communication.

DECIDE on and constantly re-evaluate what you think is the best course of action.


LISTEN to what the other person is saying.

EMPATHISE with their point of view to enable you to ask how best to help or offer a solution.

ACKNOWLEDGE the issue that is being raised and try to offer a solution.

DISTRACT (and defuse tension) by asking open-ended questions, by involving other people, or (if necessary) to create an opportunity for a pre-emptive strike.


DISTRACT (and defuse tension) by asking open-ended questions, by involving other people, or (if necessary) to create an opportunity for a pre-emptive strike.

EMPATHISE with their point of view to enable you to ask how best to help or offer a solution.

ACKNOWLEDGE the issue that is being raised and try to offer a solution.

LISTEN to what the other person is saying.

LEAD to DEAL is not simply a catchy mnemonic. The fact that the meanings are the same but the order has changed is a reminder that communication is a constantly changing fluid process.

De-escalation Tactics – Part One

Tue, 2015-09-01 15:54

This four part series is designed to be a brief introduction to the field of non-violent resolution tactics.

Part One – Underpinning Principles

Part Two – Verbal Approaches

Part Three – Body Language

Part Four – Personal Psychology


All aggressive and violent behaviours have underlying causes, which could be summarized under the headings of chemical factors and psychological factors. These are interrelated but for the sake of brevity are listed separately. Understanding and influencing these (through communication) is the best way to resolve conflict.


Motivating factors

These may be far more varied than the examples listed below, but can generally be categorized as immediate or primary causes and underlying or secondary causes.

Immediate causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Physical presence or (over-long) eye contact interpreted as a challenge, overly alpha or beta male body language, a push or stumble into a person, the spilling of food or drink, a vehicle accident, peer pressure, denial of a perceived need.

Secondary causes affecting decision-making and behaviour:

Family or work stress, suppressed anger (generally linked to the former but inhibited by potential consequence), racism or social/political beliefs, past experiences, peer pressure, the role and acceptability of violence and aggression in both upbringing and normal social environment, fatigue, past success in achieving aims through aggressive or violent behaviours.

Inhibiting factors

These could be categorized as physical and social factors.

Physical factors:

The relative sizes of parties involved, perceived strength and ability of the other party, the ‘known quantity’ of the other party, body language, perceived alertness, company (of either party), immediate consequences, likelihood of injury.

Social factors:

Peer reaction – acceptance or alienation, legal and family or work repercussions, the social acceptability of aggression and violence within the individual’s social group.

Through positioning, body language, listening and using appropriate tone and speech the underlying aim should be to attempt to reduce the individual’s motivation to continue to use aggression and possibly attempt violence, while strengthening their inhibition against such approaches.



Alcohol or other substances weaken inhibition and can reduce awareness and comprehension. This will affect the ability of another person to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

Underlying medical conditions

Due to a pre-existing health condition the other person may not necessarily be on the same ‘operating system’ as everyone else and may not respond in the same way.


Aural and visual exclusion along with other side effects of adrenaline may hinder communication and attempts to influence the individual’s motivation and inhibition.

It is unlikely that there is much that you can do once an incident has already begun that will mitigate underlying chemical factors. If spotted early enough then the effect of drugs such as alcohol can be reduced by slowing absorption into the blood stream by providing food and withdrawing further alcohol (if safe to do so), but these are factors that are largely outside your control.

It is important to be aware of the role of chemical factors as ‘tipping points’ in an individual’s behaviour patterns. Whether they are part of the primary or secondary cause of the problem they may lower the probability of a successful non-violent de-escalation.

Not seeing the wood for the trees

Mon, 2015-08-17 18:01

The techniques of karate kata have many possible interpretations. What each individual sees in the kata will vary according to their own experience and how skilled they are at identifying potential applications.

Not every application taught need be practical.

As a case in point in my Shotokan classes I teach a wrist grab defence using kata movements that isn’t the simplest or most effective method of escape, but is a very effective drill for teaching appropriate positioning, optimum biomechanics and principles of controlling and unbalancing. While doing so I always stress that it is drill about biomechanics and usually show the faster escape. In similar vein for my Heian / Pinan Sandan drills in both the older Heian Flow System and the more recent Pinan Flow System I included a spinning back elbow and back fist. While this has been successfully used in the UFC,  it is not the most practical of techniques, but its inclusion was to a large extent to illustrate that point by making it an opening for students to unpredictably encounter a number of different positions and attacks which would lead to spontaneously training other drills.

When an application is specifically designed for practical use I notice that some people often fail to see the wood for the trees.

It is easy to over-focus on mimicking the techniques or sequences of the form but forget the overall context. If you need to strike, control or escape from another person then they will also have an agenda.

This means that they are unlikely to be holding you limply, are likely to be prepared to hit you, or may continuously be trying to hit you or get to a position where they can hit you unless you take steps to prevent that. Always protect your head and as much of your body as you can.

Unanticipated aggressive and violent confrontations tend to cause a significant adrenaline release unless you are very familiar with them and a non consensual or unpredictable event will cause different reactions to a predictable or fully consensual one. In such situations even very well trained people have difficulty utilizing fine motor skills or targeting accurately and this should be reflected in applications (for example see my kicking in self defence video). The same hormonal cascade (along with other substances) may render pain compliant / dependent techniques ineffective.

The context of the drill should be realistic if the drill is supposed to be for self defence. Appropriate habitual acts of violence (HAOV) rather than style or rule format specific attacks, and not over-skilling or under-skilling attackers / training partners. In similar vein you need to be clear whether what you are doing is legal for the envisioned circumstances  if you are training it for practical purposes rather than historical curiosity.

Hitting or striking a resisting person isn’t as easy as working with a compliant training partner. As a general rule at close quarters (where most violent incidents occur and remain) you will need to strike to control and control to strike.

When people get hit, they move, even when you are holding them. Combinations should take this into account. This quickly becomes apparent when you are making contact or receiving contact in training.

The potential of practical karate kata application is incredibly vast, but when interpreting kata for such purposes the ‘trees’ of the individual skill sets should always be seen within the context of the wood that represents the nature of actual violent confrontations.

KNX 15 – A unique experience

Tue, 2015-08-11 16:40

On the second weekend in August I travelled to Frankfurt along with other martial artists from around the globe to enjoy Jesse Enkamp’s second Karate Nerd ExperienceKNX 15. Attendees and instructors came together from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Okinawa to share their enthusiasm and knowledge in the beautiful facilities of the Frankfurt Sports Complex.

The momo-iro obi – more than just a belt.

Before I say anything about the instructors I’d like to make a comment on my fellow participants. I’ve seen a number of things written about the momo-iro (peach blossom) belt that is one of the signature elements of this event. From adults just out of college to a number of us with greyer hair and beards, throughout the event I had no idea of the grades or experience of my fellow participants. Grade was not relevant. What was relevant was an enthusiasm to learn, a clear respect for every other person on the mat, and the willingness to try new approaches. The belt was worn not only by the students but also by all the guest instructors. The momo-iro obi not only bound our waists, it brought us all together as a symbol of shared experience. 

So what was this experience? I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to have attended and taught at a number of national and international seminars at home in Britain and abroad, both in single disciplines such as karate or multiple martial arts. Without a doubt, forgetting for a moment the high quality of the instruction, this was the smoothest running event I have ever seen. Much of the credit for this is due to Jesse Enkamp and the team that he gathered together to run the seminar, particularly Matthias Golinski. From picking a good venue (with accommodation, training and social facilities all in the same building) and organising appropriate instructors, timetabling events and arranging video recording and cameras, communicating in advance and throughout the experience by email and social media, to welcoming us all with a goodie bag – everything slotted perfectly into place. For those of you that have read Jesse’s blog  this attention to detail should come as no surprise.

Holding for the punch.

Jesse kicked off the event by bringing us all together for a training session on four bunkai he had developed for a kata that was immediately identifiable to me (though a version from a system I had never practiced). This session and Jesse’s instruction set the tone for the entire weekend. Jesse is a superb technician and an inspiring teacher. Most people know Jesse through his Karate Nerd blog  as a successful competitor, and a good writer and researcher; as Jesse starts to teach more seminars I hope that more people will discover what a good teacher he is too.

Jesse was followed onto the mats by Swedish BJJ instructor Waldo Zapata from Viva Zapata BJJ . This was another lesson marked by good humour, training insights and high quality teaching.

Waldo Zapata

Imagine the challenge of teaching a number of ‘get-up’ drills to a class where the majority had little or no ground experience. It was a tough challenge, but the principles were explained clearly and movements broken down in such a way that the group progressed at a fast pace encouraged by Waldo’s enthusiasm.

Happy students at the end of the class.

The first evening began with a question and answer session with Okinawan Karate legend Hokama Tetsuhiro, 10th dan. Hokama Sensei was engaging and enthusiastic as he tackled the various questions the group put to him (and he was later interviewed by Jesse Enkamp for Jesse’s blog). Hokama Sensei kindly finished the evening by demonstrating his calligraphy skills, writing kanji for attendees on specially provided paper as well as signing copies of his latest book.

Hokama Sensei demonstrating.

Hokama Sensei taught three lessons on Saturday aided by two Uke and demonstrations from the attendees where he was impressed by their training. His lessons were marked by concentration, attention to detail, physical pressure and giggles. The combination of concentration, relaxation, hard conditioning (varying throughout the group depending on age and injuries) and laughter summed up what makes karate so appealing as a hobby, a form of exercise, and as a way of life.


In the middle of Sensei Hokama’s lessons the participants took a break from Okinawan karate to look at the dynamics of modern WKF competition karate under the tutelage of World Kumite Champion Jonathan Horne. Due to pain from a pre-existing back injury I sat and watched this lesson, which focused on understanding distancing, generating speed, using appropriate timing, and the economy of movement.

A composed Jonathan Horne giving a great demonstration of timing, distancing and economy of movement.

Karate is so broad that it can be easy to put ourselves into ‘camps’ or ‘factions’ and competitive karate is not my forte, but watching Jonathan teach I was able to identify principles of movement and posture that I have discussed elsewhere on my blog  as well as other commonalities with lessons taught by Jesse Enkamp, Waldo Zapata and Hokama Tetsuhiro. Although not the most physically demanding of the KNX sessions this was indubitably the most energetic and tiring, but the atmosphere created in the dojo meant that it was impossible to find a single person without a beaming smile while watching Jonathan demonstrate and teach.

On Saturday evening, as we gathered back at the dojo for the evening’s ‘secret’ activity, the group was still buzzing. Jesse had realised that we might be a combination of high spirits and tired bodies and had organised an introduction to meditation.


Suitably calmed and rested we all took advantage of the excellent social facilities to sit outside in the evening heat to informally discuss the day’s events over some nourishing cold beverages.

Before we knew it Sunday morning had come round and it was time for Jesse to deliver the final lessons. Jesse began by encouraging us to practice the combinations he had taught us on Friday before showing us how they related to the Ryuei-Ryu version of the kata Niseishi and teaching us the full solo form.

A KNX welcome.

As someone who knows two other versions of this form I found this lesson particularly fascinating. This session once again highlighted the quality of Jesse’s instruction and the precision of his techniques. It was also fascinating to see the slight variations in the performance of the same form caused by the different heritage of the various participants.

One last class remained. In a very prescient manner Jesse had scheduled a ‘recovery’ class to look at post training exercises to optimize recovery and therefore enhance our potential. This is a subject that is often ignored and it was good to see it covered as part of a more holistic approach to karate training.

While I am certain that there was more Jesse could have taught us, at that point the Dojo was stormed and taken over by another Master.


As we had failed to heed his warnings, travelling all the way from New Mexico, Ameri-Do-Te 11th Dan Master Ken strode into the Dojo to teach us the error of our ways.

Clearly outranking the ‘pink’ belts of the event organisers, Master Ken was quick to take control.  

Matthias Golinski, Master Ken, Jesse Enkamp.

This was truly a unique ending to a great weekend seminar. Master Ken was as incredible in person as his youtube channel Enter the Dojo suggests. After a quarter century of training in karate, I was humbled by the power and charisma of a one man hurticane.

Learning the Thrust of Freedom.

Watching this man shook me to my core. My sides are still aching. There were moments when along with my companions I was helpless on the floor.

Master Ken demonstrating one of the unique moves of Ameri-Do-Te.

Reflecting on the weekend I can see that it has stoked the enthusiasm of all the attendees and proved the flash point of a number of ideas that will be taken to dojos across the world. The only sad thing is that we could only meet up for a weekend. I would jump at the opportunity to train with any of the instructors who were chosen to teach, and would recommend training with any of them if you have the opportunity to go to a seminar or visit their dojos. Most of the instructors are based in Europe, America or Asia but KNX organiser Jesse is visiting the UK later this year.

Thanks to Jesse, the team and everyone else at KNX15 for a great event. I am already looking forward to seeing what the next one will be.






Headlines, knives and kneejerk reactions

Thu, 2015-07-23 12:01

Last week the Office for National Statistics in the UK published its latest Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). This regular publication does not normally merit much public comment in the media unless a politician seizes upon it to argue that crime is continuing to fall, but the July 16 2015 release made the headlines because of an apparent increase in offences involving sharp weapons.

First Knife Crime Rise in four years proclaimed the BBC.

The Daily Mail let us know that Dramatic rise in knife crime is down to a fall in stop and search, says Met chief Hogan-Howe 

Knife crime in England and Wales up for first time in four years cried the Guardian.

The question I’ve been asked is that with this frightening increase in knife crime, should we change our training to focus more on edged weapon awareness and blade defences?

Actually that’s not true, no-one’s asked me if they should do more edged weapon awareness, they just want blade defences.


Reality check.

Have their been more recorded offences involving edged weapons? Yes. According to the CSEW

“In the year ending March 2015, the police recorded 26,370 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, a 2% increase compared with the previous year (25,974, Table 9a). This is the first year in which these figures have increased since 2010/11 (the earliest period for which data are directly comparable).”

However, before we panic we should bear in mind two things. Firstly the low numbers involved mean that they are susceptible to high percentage changes. The CSEW itself notes that
“For some offence types, such as rape and sexual assault, the relatively low number of offences, that involve the use of a knife or sharp instrument means the volume of these offences are subject to apparent large percentage changes, and should be interpreted with caution. For example, in the year ending March 2015, the number of sexual assaults involving a knife or sharp instrument increased by 28% (an additional 28 offences compared to the 101 recorded in the previous year) and the number of rapes involving knife or sharp instrument increased by 21% (an additional 55 offences compared to the 267 recorded in the previous year).”

Secondly, although we have yet to get fully comparable data, the evidence from hospital admission data indicates that this rise in use has not been mirrored with a rise in injuries. The CSEW records that

“An additional source of information about incidents involving knives and sharp instruments is provided by provisional National Health Service (NHS) hospital admission statistics5. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument peaked at 5,720 in 2006/07. Admissions have declined since that year; the latest data available, for the year ending March 2014, showed that there were 3,654 admissions, a 5% decrease on the previous year. Admissions for assault with a sharp instrument in 2013/14 were the lowest since 2002/03.”

Knife crime is up, slightly. Deaths from blade usage is down. So have the general populace of England and Wales suddenly become better at defending themselves against knives? No. Defending against a knife is not easy. Training to defend against a knife can have validity, but it is not a simple process as I explained in 2008 here.

If a person intends to use a knife, as opposed to using it as an effective tool for coercion and intimidation in robbery or sexual assault, the odds are you won’t even see it as these two training scenarios illustrate here.

If we need to do anything ‘new’ as a result of this year’s fresh statistics it is to improve our behaviour. Prevention is better than cure. Some events are so random that they cannot be avoided, but good awareness and good behaviour go a long way to avoiding becoming a crime statistic. As Gichin Funakoshi wrote in his 20 precepts

When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behaviour that invites trouble from them.

Context should be critical

Mon, 2015-07-13 17:54

Self defence discussions can be minefields. Everyone has an opinion and no-one likes criticism of an art or a training methodology in which they have invested a lot of time. It is easy for both new and experienced practitioners alike to be bombarded with opinions if they venture online, and it is also very easy for the unwary to be bamboozled with ‘facts’ that may seem to support a particular stance but are actually being used without a critical eye to their original context.
The context of presented information is vital if we are to use it effectively. In my work on self defence over the years I have processed and accumulated a lot of information: government or academic led reports or studies into violent crime; books by psychologists and anthropologists; texts by security specialists, law enforcement officers, military personnel, bouncers and martial artists; amateur mobile videos and security footage of real events; anecdotes from friends who have personal experience due to professional roles; and personal experience of events when I was younger and stupid enough to frequent places where trouble was likely to occur, or I was dealing with potential events in a professional capacity. A lot of the information and knowledge that I’ve gathered is useful, but not all of it is directly applicable to personal self defence for non professional contexts, even when it is accurate and comes from reputable sources.

When data is presented as a basis for a particular approach, especially a self defence approach, the context of the data is critical for assessing its viability to the context in which the end user wishes to be effective.

It is easy to fall prey to false logic when presented with data. An example might be “A law enforcement officer / bouncer has lots of experience defending themselves or managing aggressive or potentially aggressive situations therefore what they say is definitely right/of use to me.” Actually no. The information may be very useful, but you need to employ a number of critical filters to it because there will be shared elements of past/potential experience and very different paradigms as well.

What do I mean by this?

A LEO or doorman is likely to have had to apply physical or de-escalation skills under pressure and under adrenaline. There is a point of commonality if you are trying to learn from their experience for the purpose of personal (not professional) self defence. However, how a professional behaves under adrenaline may be different to how an inexperienced person behaves under adrenaline due to familiarity both with how their body feels under its influence and familiarity with the trigger situation. In similar vein a professional may through virtue of their experience have very different thresholds for adrenaline triggers.

An LEO or doorman is likely to have had to apply verbal skills to de-escalate a situation or deter violence, or physical skills to defend themselves and/or restrain another person/or persons. There will be elements commonality between their experiences and approaches to those appropriate for personal self defence, but there are caveats:

  • The professional will be there under a different mental framework: they are there to do a job, they have generally arrived on the scene specifically to prevent an aggressive or violent incident or to manage the same – that creates a different mental field of play with different pressures and permissions to a person that is engaging verbal or physical tactics who has not planned on being involved or has not necessarily ‘consented’ to being involved.
  • The intended outcomes are likely to be different between the professional and non professional with one defending where needed but usually trying to move to control rather than escape, whereas the other is more likely to be trying to defend themselves (or others) to escape rather than control.
  • The professional is more likely to be anticipating back up compared to the non professional, a state of mind which will affect physical behaviours. Depending on the environment (and their role) they may have more or less anticipation of non professional intervention either for or against them as a result.
  • The professional is more likely to be engaged by someone because of their job which may in turn affect the nature and intensity of the attack and will definitely effect the dynamics of the crucial attempted de-escalation phase and any initial moments of physical violence..

Context is crucial. The professional and non professional may both be dealing with an aggressive person, but the mental and physical framework can be very different. There are lessons to learn, but experience in one does not fully equate to experience in the other.

One example of the need for a critical approach to data is the figure that has been banded about over the years in varying percentages that 95% of ‘street fights’ go to the ground. This figure was seen as a justification for training in groundwork and a vindication of arts that had a strong ground game. Now there is no doubt that groundwork is a useful skill for self defence in case you end up on the ground, and it is also a great form of physical exercise, but that figure (and its variations) had a context which was often omitted. The 95% actually referred to the percentage of attempted arrests made by the LAPD in 1988 which fitted one of five scenarios in each of which going to the ground while attempting restraint was often one of the final actions (between 35% and 46% depending on the scenario). The report concluded that in 62% of the attempted arrests made by the LAPD in that year where the subject resisted the officer ended up restraining or handcuffing the subject on the ground. That’s a very important context. While there are times when self defence may end up in restraint, it is not normally the primary aim of most self defence, and the aim of those officers (to restrain against resistance but harm as little as possible) was a key factor in the recorded outcomes.

Our analysis and interpretation of reports or information relating to real violent events is not the only area where we can be prone to blindness, bias or favouritism. There are physical self defence lessons to be learned from watching any type of martial arts competitive event, or engaging in any martial arts training, but we do need to employ our critical faculties and understand the different contexts of each event and tactic and assess how that in turn impacts what we see and what we can usefully extract for our own training aims.