So farewell 2014… At first glance it has not been a good year.
On New Year’s Eve 2013 I cancelled my plans to go out because of a sore throat. A week later, while training with a visiting guest from Argentina, I felt tired, sloppy and without focus.
A few days later still I was admitted to hospital with an unshakeable fever and swollen throat for the first of what would become several unplanned stays over the course of the year.
The initial diagnosis was epiglottitis and lingual tonsillitis. The treatment: two months of rest and a long course of antibiotics.
I’m not used to taking a long time away from training.
When my kidneys first failed I was still attending two 2 hour Aikido classes a week alongside personal karate training while my blood creatinine levels were so high that the renal registrar was astonished to see me walk into hospital for a pre dialysis operation. I carried on training with a temporary haemodialysis catheter hanging from my chest that was plugged directly into my subclavian vein. When that was removed I continued to train with a peritoneal dialysis catheter sticking out the side of my abdomen (actually I wouldn’t recommend that for an art as rough as Aikido – the catheter moved in my abdomen so much it took a three hour long operation to remove and judging by the clean up and investigation required it had probably perforated my intestines at some point in time). After both my renal transplants I have been on the training floor within 5 weeks of the operation.
The months dragged by. An attempt to return to training and teaching at the end of the ‘recovery period’ brought another fever and another stay in hospital. After another break, and making the decision to fully resume all my training and teaching to correct severe training flaws creeping in among my students, the pattern repeated itself and I found myself back in hospital only a week before a planned biopsy of the swollen tissue.
The good news was the biopsy was clear. The PET scans were clear.
The bad news was that my throat was still swollen, still painful, and only continual antibiotics would keep the fevers (and swelling so extreme it would require hospitalisation) at bay.
It was time to press on with teaching and training until I could schedule an operation to remove the offending infected tissue with minimal impact on my classes and my students.
All this medical attention has had some positive effects.
The attempts to rid my body of this (probable viral) infection in my throat has resulted in a sustainable experimental lower immunosuppressant regime which is better for my overall health as well as the transplant’s longevity, and my red blood cell count has increased, leading to increased energy and more sustainable aerobic activity.
Taking a step back has been useful both for me as a martial artist and as a teacher.
In terms of my own training it has helped me see what aspects were deeply ingrained and what I needed to work on more.
That has given a clarity to my personal training goals that I have not enjoyed since my last transplant in 2005. As a teacher, looking at my students, my absence made it obvious which elements of my syllabus they had actually absorbed, and where their understanding was merely superficial: like a dance routine or script learned purely for a performance and discarded thereafter. That revelation, with its mix of good and bad news, has led to a degree of introspection of my pedagogy, and a resulting shake up that I know will be beneficial for my students.
This may read like a litany of future successes snatched from the jaws of failure, but that is the nature of progress.
We don’t progress unless we try, and if we don’t try hard enough we won’t experience mistakes and failures.
The important thing is to move on from those failures and remember the lessons they taught you. There is a limited amount of times you can try the same approach before you have to accept that it hasn’t worked, it isn’t going to work, that it is not the right tool for the job or you are trying to change something that cannot be changed, or improve something that is already reached the extent of its limitations.
The year HAS had its share of positive changes…
A new personal dojo has given me a better space in which to train at home and the ability to hang a heavy bag, which I look forward to using to refine elements of my striking skills and improve my kicks (which are definitely weaker than they used to be). Although my two personal forms are designed to be drilled in very limited space the new dojo has also given me the ability to train older forms without continuous changes of position and I’ve already used it to film a short little video.
2014 has also been the year that I’ve finally begun publishing my new series of books on the Pinan / Heian kata, with two books released this year in both paperback and ebook formats.
My last book was written in 2004 and released in 2007 and this new series reflects the changes in the drills that I prefer to teach for the kata, and a wish to share more information in more manageable packages. One of the biggest issues with books is getting the quality of the pictures right to convey the information to the reader, and there’s a big difference between what looks good online, what looks good on a home printer, and what is the right quality for a printing press. It has taken a lot of time and work to come up with a format that I was happy to see published and met the recommendations of my peers.
At this point in time the response to the first two books in the series (covering the first three Pinan / Heian forms) has been very positive and I intend to release the final two books in 2015.
Another big change this year was my decision to open a club where Shotokan karateka could train in addition to my DART karate clubs.
There is a lot of good Shotokan near me, but I wanted to offer a kata based syllabus to students with the kumite consisting of bunkai and the kihon based predominantly around impact and balance training. I didn’t want my new Shotokan clubs to be divisive and I recognised that I would be teaching quite a different syllabus to other local karateka, so I decided to make the club open to any karateka to train by arrangement in addition to their regular training without need to grade with me or leave their current association. So far the club has attracted some great karateka and it’s been a real pleasure to teach the classes.
Going back into full training while tired and ill is an interesting experience. In the late 90s and at the turn of the century I was privileged to train for a week each August for a few summers with the late great Aikidoka Pierre Chassang. Chatting with Pierre (in my poor French) in the canteen or watching him walk about away from training he seemed like a normal small old man shuffling about in a tracksuit.
However, as soon as Pierre stepped onto the mats he grew, seeming to straighten up and draw energy from the ground and the people around him.
I am not the martial artist that Pierre was, but I felt the same when I returned to training after my transplants and this year each time I have stepped tired onto the training area I have felt that same energy, growth and motivation.
This week I’m going under a general anaesthetic yet again to have a lot of swollen tissue cut away from the base of my tongue deep in my throat. The surgeon has promised me at least two weeks of pain. A perfect martial artist’s Christmas and New Year?
I’ll let you know. :)
The essential karate book by Graeme Lund is a working text that I wish had existed 25 years ago. Just under A4 size it is one of the best laid out and clearly presented karate books that I have ever seen, with great line drawings and bright colour pictures illustrating techniques. It is filled with clear examples of the basic techniques, supporting exercises, terminology and physiology as well as a useful guide to refereeing matches, making it a suitable library addition for both beginner and black belt alike.
Karate is of course a generic term that describes a diverse range of martial arts, so to a large degree this book would be a disappointment to many karateka. This is a book about WKF Karate, which means that it will appeal to the adherents of some karate traditions while raising the hackles of others, but we can hardly blame Graeme Lund for that. This is a book devoted to the exercise of karate as a potential Olympic sport.
The book comes with a DVD filled with demonstrations of basic techniques and this is its weakest point. The book is cutting edge in its picture clarity, which only highlights the poor quality of the accompanying short DVD that can only be described as having the picture quality of a 1980s pirate movie combined with echoing sound. Until a new DVD is issued my advice would be to read the book but ignore the DVD.
For those who are beginning a WKF approved form of karate this is an incredibly useful book. In one place it combines a skeleton history of karate, demonstrations and explanations of basic training uses of karate techniques, information on competitions and refereeing, a two way glossary of English and Japanese terminology, a useful section on core conditioning exercises and traditional karate information such as information on the body’s striking surfaces and vital points.
I’m not a WKF competition aficionado but I do like this book. I’ve an extensive library, but this book pulls together in one place some things that otherwise I’d have to search through several books to find. What sets it apart from almost every other book on my shelves is the remarkable quality of the images, which at the current book price ($12.49 US hardback) is unusual.
When I am delivering personal safety training I occasionally get asked whether a car should be parked ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’. Often the person asking has a preconceived answer based upon what they’ve heard or read. I also have a preconceived answer, but it might not be what you think.
When it comes to the use of our vehicles in self defence, or accessing our vehicles to escape in a self defence situation, there are four key variables that I like people to consider: the context and environment, the vehicle, the personal capabilities and limitations of the person parking, and the likelihood of the car being part of a combative or escape situation.
The context and environment
Why are you parking, why are you making this trip?
If you are shopping for things that require you to access the boot (trunk) of your car then your priority should be to be for that to be easily accessible – in other words it shouldn’t have another car parked up against it. Whether or not that is ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’ depends on the design of the parking spaces in the vicinity.
Where are you parking, what time are you parking and when will you return to collect your car?
When you park tends to determine how much choice you get as to where you park, when you are returning will tend to determine how many cars are around yours and therefore how easy it is to access the doors or see into the car. Ideally people should choose well lit, overlooked (and possibly CCTV monitored) car parks – but often that choice isn’t fully ours to make.
How many other people have already parked?
The choice of parking space is often determined by the actions of others. That also determines as to whether ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’ best suits your needs.
How big is the parking space relative to the car?
If you’re parking in Europe or the UK then getting in or out of a car when other cars are parked alongside is generally an exercise in body contortionism. It’s not something that is affected much by how the car is parked. You aren’t going to be able to use an opened door as an effective shield. The position of the nose of the car that gives you the quickest access to the back of the doors from the direction from which you approach the car is the ‘best’ position but by so little it hardly makes a difference.
Does your car have an airbag?
Most modern cars have an airbag safety feature. This means if we bump into something the airbag deploys and hits the driver and obscures the view ahead. Generally speaking the airbag in the steering wheel is more likely to be deployed if the car hits something to the front than to the back. As a result if you do have to ram something to get out of a situation it can often be best to do so using the back of the car unless you are already pre-prepared and ready for an airbag deployment.
Does the car have a crumple zone?
Most modern cars are designed to crumple more at the front than at the rear. The front of the car is therefore the worst thing to hit anything with while driving to escape. As we are more likely to bump into things under pressure an initial reversing out of a spot may be safer than driving nose first. This may apply more to cars built to European safety standards than other standards.
Is your car lower or higher than normal?
This will affect how quickly you can get into your car under pressure.
Does your car have easily operable doors?
This will affect how quickly you can get into your car under pressure.
Is the car closed or open topped?
Trying to escape from someone in by getting into an open topped car may mean you get ‘in’ quicker, but they are more likely to join you.
Does the car have an electronic key or a physical key?
With high adrenaline levels and a resultant lowered fine motor control, inserting a key into a door may take much longer than normal. Opening the car by an electronic key is quicker and more reliable.
Does the car have an automatic internal locking button?
One of my habits on entering a car is to lock the doors if I am on my own. It’s routine. The car will do it anyway as soon as I drive off.
Your personable capabilities
How are you used to parking?
How I park depends on what I am doing and the angle of approach available, along with what I am driving. If I’m going to the supermarket or teaching a martial arts class I will always park ‘nose in’ as I want to put things in and out of the boot (trunk). If I’m not using the boot then depending on the angle of approach and where I am parking I’ll go either ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’. As I’m more accustomed to parking ‘nose in’, under pressure without thinking about it I’d be more likely to put the car into reverse than first gear. Under pressure most of us will do what we have trained to do.
Could you actually run someone down that you could see?
A large number of people that I have met in both the martial arts and non martial arts community are very averse to hitting people, especially hitting people in the face. They can hit pads, but hitting a real person doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially under pressure. If you are not a particularly violent person then deliberately driving forwards into someone trying to stop your car may be beyond you. Reversing into a person you can’t see clearly may be easier (and safer).
The likelihood of the car being part of a combative or escape situation
Are people attacked by people hiding near or in their cars? Yes. Do people have to run to their cars to escape? Yes. Are these events common? No. Is the likelihood of such an event high? No. If you want to form a better picture and see just how low the odds of it happening are then do some research to see how often it has happened, where it has happened, and from that you might get an idea of why it happened. The risk of having to get into your car at speed to avoid pursuit or attack is so low that it should not outweigh the primary convenience factors of why you are parking in the first place.
I’ve looked at this ‘in’ or ‘out’ question. I’ve probably over analysed it. I’ve done this so that I don’t have to think about it again. In my opinion the key priority that should determine how we park is what we are intending to do. The factors that surround getting into a car under pressure means that when accessing the vehicle it makes very little difference whether you are ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’. What is better for driving away depends on your personality and the type of vehicle. For me the majority of the time I need to access my boot (trunk) and the environment forces me to park ‘nose in’ to do so. Would I prefer to reverse into a threat than drive head on into a threat – given the nature of my car and its crumple and airbag system I’d prefer to reverse out of a space. Carry on parking whichever way you have been parking for the purpose for which you are parking and where possible choose easily accessible, well lit and overlooked/monitored sites.
I’m extremely excited to be releasing Volume Two of the Pinan Flow System, outlining how I use Pinan / Heian Sandan to teach free movement between striking and controlling strategies along with the ability to adapt to different stimuli. I rate this kata incredibly highly and I hope that by taking the time to record my drills in pictures, this book will ‘open it up’ to far more people than I could possibly reach by seminars and classes alone.
This book, the second in a four volume series, examines the third Pinan / Heian kata. With practical application drills based on both the study of the reactions of students to common forms of aggression and violence in high pressure scenario simulations, and years of research into violent crime, it contains a detailed analysis of the attributes that make techniques effective, along with a discussion of the case for grappling and throwing being an integral part of karate, and a look at some of the myths surrounding the purpose and application of kata.
Volume Two approaches the kata by looking at the common factors that unite effective combative approaches rather than focusing on minor stylistic differences, and as a result provides applications for everyone regardless of style or grade.
The drills have a heavy focus on utilising movements in the kata to move from compromised positions to achieve a control or strike. Rather than offering a single solution the drills recognise the inherent variety provided by tactile situations and offer lots of redundancies, all keeping within the scope of the form. The drills cover responses to habitual acts of violence (HAOV) such as punches, grabs, tackles, leg-lifts, headlocks and clinch like positions. The kata comes alive with punches, open-handed strikes, forearm strikes, unbalancing strategies, knee strikes, arm controls and throws.
The Pinan Flow System refers to the ability to train karateka to move seamlessly between grappling and ballistic responses using techniques and tactics embedded in the kata, and illustrates why the Pinan / Heian set are an essential training tool.
I’ve recently had two experienced Dan grades come to join me for ‘extra’ karate training in addition to their own regular club training, and if their smiles and laughter as the kata has come alive for them in these drills is any measure then I know that a lot of students and instructors will benefit from this book.
The book is available internationally on amazon and the ebook will be released on Kindle before Christmas.
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.
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.