And we all know, all of us, that we are our own greatest opponents. What is holding you back from your potential? You. No one else has the access, no one else has the strength. If you choose to believe otherwise ("I would be really successful except for .") it only means that your excuse-making machine is working fine. You can find people with much worse circumstances who became successful. I guarantee it.
So the question-- can you write your ultimate opponent? Can you turn the parts of you that hold you back into the kind of antagonist who exists to lose? And in doing so, can you create yourself into the architect of your own future? Is that what mastery is?
*As Maija explains it. She's worth checking out.
How do you use your feet?
A few weeks back I was reading an excellent blog post on ‘Old School Karate’ by Garry Parker of Columbus Dojo. He’d made a personal list of the things he did that he considered as facets of ‘old school’ karate. Obviously such a list is very personal: you can ask one hundred excellent and experienced karateka to list ten things and I imagine that while you’ll get a number of answers that crop up again and again, you won’t get one hundred identical answers, and it might be arrogant to say that any one of those answers was ‘wrong’.
One thing that was mentioned in his article (which you can read here) was the importance of learning to use the feet in karate. How we use the feet has immense importance for not only the feet themselves, but also affects how efficiently and effectively we use the ankles, calves, thighs, hips, pelvis… you get the idea. If the feet aren’t being used correctly then your ability to move, hold position, apply or receive power effectively is compromised, and so is your karate.
I train in two karate systems, one of which trains barefoot and one that wears footwear. As such I am very aware of the differences and similarities between the two approaches. Whether you train barefoot or in footwear it is important to recognise that they do create different dynamics. As an example here are two video captures of me stepping at speed barefoot and in trainers. In both the stepping foot hovers just above the ground as I step, but (without my being consciously aware of it) in trainers my heel automatically touches the ground first (just as it does in normal walking), a different movement to the flatter ‘ball first’ barefoot landing, even though in both my toes are slightly raised and then grip on landing.
While the actions of the supporting foot may be almost identical in both, often the stepping or kicking foot has a different ‘feel’ or position in footwear. Personally I think it’s important to be aware of the dynamics of each if you are possibly thinking that you might need to use your karate in footwear.
The positioning and ‘working’ of the feet is obvious when you are barefoot (if you know what to look for or if it is being highlighted by the teacher). What is less obvious is that the same things you do when barefoot are equally important to use the feet effectively when you are in footwear. How the foot is moved and grips within the shoe, just as when barefoot, has a knock on effect on the rest of your biomechanics. In fact I would argue that although hidden, correct use of the foot is even more important when shod than barefoot because of the sole between the foot and the ground. Even in heavy trainers I am always aware of the type of surface I am on (I can feel it through the shoe), and my feet are always relaxing and tensing in different ways to allow purchase or mobility.
As to which is old school? Using the feet properly is old school. Whether you do so barefoot or shod depends on location, preference, and practicality.
There’s a lot of detail in the feet. Whether you are barefoot or wearing footwear to train, those details should not be neglected. If you want to get a grip on your training, get a grip on your feet.
“Oh, I’ve seen that before.” YouTube and 10,000 hours. A little nudge and a little twist. How to use YouTube as a constructive tool. In failure is truth. Planting trees and how it teaches failure. And Lawrence rants on two idiots that did a fake child abduction. Yes, you read that correctly a fake child abduction filmed it and put it on YouTube
First there is a mountainThen there is no mountainThen there isDonovan
One does not simply climb a mountain.
I'm not talking about all the unique gear, the extreme conditioning and the specialized and dangerous training.
No, what I'm saying is that there is a process.
Here at the ABC (Always Be Climbing) Academy we understand that process better than most. We can proudly say that while mountain climbing can be risky, in our 9 years of operation we have never had a death or even a serious injury at our academy.
So what is our process, you ask. Here are the essential elements:
1. Each new member of the ABC Academy participates in group classes. Together, in unison, we work with imaginary gear, tie imaginary knots in imaginary rope, and perform carefully choreographed movements that prepare us for the imaginary climb. Why imaginary? Well, while actual mountains exist in the real world, they are all quite different. Some are rugged and craggy while others are smooth. Some are bare while others are covered in snow and ice. And, let's face it, mountains are often quite far away. Keep in mind that when George Mallory gave the answer "Because it's there," as to why he climbed the mountain, for most of us the mountain just isn't there. On the other hand the mountain in our minds, let's call this the ideal mountain, is the tallest, most difficult mountain in the world, perhaps in the universe. It is there ready for us at any time. It will be the mountain we are always preparing to climb.
2. During our training we will work with special scenarios and particular patterns of sequential movements. Here are just a few you will learn: "Leaping the precipice." "Scaling the cliff." "Traversing the wall." Each of these and many many others may be performed as a group or in solo performance. Each performance will be evaluated on form, emotional gravitas and physical skill. Some movements require poise and grace, while others are explosive and powerful. There are even special patterns that have been synchronized to carefully chosen music.
3. Meditation and visualization is critical. Being able to "see" each part of the mountain in our mind's eye means that our movements will be much more representational of reality. After all, we consider ourselves a reality-based academy.
4. Seminars and special training are also major features of the ABCA program. Several times each year we will bring in guest instructors who have proven time and again that climbing the ideal mountain requires years of preparation. Many of our guest instructors have gone on to become champions in climbing form competition, showing intensity and flawless style in choreographed routines. Just this past weekend the National Mixed Pairs Abseiling (Rappelling) Champion visited our school for 2 great days of training. Our students practiced the extremely difficult Australian rappel and the Tandem or Spider rappel (on flat surfaces of course).
5. Thorough evaluation and certification. As the old business mantra says "it's not over til the paperwork is complete." This is also true in climbing. Each phase of training is carefully graded using stringent standards of subjectivity. When the student can demonstrate knowledge and proficiency at a particular level, then and only then will he or she be allowed to move to the next phase. Each phase is identifiable by different colored climbing harnesses. Red harness and black harness students, our most advanced and elite group, normally trains separately from the green and blue harness crowd.
6. We honor the mountain goat and strive to exude the spirit of the goat in all that we do. Fearless, agile, strong, confident--these are the attributes we aim to incorporate into our training. We study the goat's movements, and we try our best to emulate each nuance of these magnificent creatures.
7. Safety First. We are sticklers for safety. We follow careful safety protocol in all that we do. When climbers in our advanced program work the 9 foot climbing wall, affectionately known at the Academy as "The Widow Maker," each climber will wear a safety harness with an instructor at the ready. It goes without saying that climbing helmets, gloves, and elbow and knee pads must also be worn during these intense training sessions.
8. It's not all serious, life-and-death training. We also try to have fun. Each quarter we host sleepovers, and each summer we conduct week long climbing camps so that our students can work out the kinks (pardon the pun). We watch movies, such as The Eiger Sanction, Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit. We have contests where we see who can throw the Monkey's Knot the farthest or who can hang the longest amount of time with only one hand (based on Tom Cruise's move from Mission Impossible 2).
If you've ever thought about the potential thrill of mountain climbing, rock climbing, or ice climbing, I urge you to stop by our Academy and let one of our experienced Climbing Instructors put you through an introductory course, which we call "Base Camp." It's absolutely free, and you might just learn a thing or two.
Remember: A. B. C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Climbing.
There are three very different things that tend to get called scenario training. Maybe more, but I can only think of three right now. They have almost nothing in common. They all have some value. They all have some weaknesses and problems.
The first I call "situationals." These are the short 'what if' questions. What if you're attacked at a urinal? How do you fight out of a crowd? Someone jumps you on the stairs, what do you do? They can be fun training, and intense. But intensity is something the instructor always has to worry about. Not because of danger (though brawling on stairs has obvious safety issues). Because anything that feels intense, any training that gives the student some adrenaline, will feel more real to the student than other forms of training. And if the situation or the solution has artificiality--and it will-- the student will still learn the lessons hard even if the lessons are wrong.
The value in situationals, if you are careful, is that it allows you to work some stuff out. To find some tools (like shoulder slams using the handrail on the stairs). The problem is that they will always be pieces. I firmly believe that most bear hug escapes come from this kind of brainstorming, and they fail miserably because the people envisioning the escapes somehow missed that bear hugs almost never come into play to immobilize, but to throw people into things and any escape must work with your feet in the air.
Situationals will almost always miss context.
They are also a hotbed for stylistic inbreeding. Inbreeding-- you have a good technique so I come up with a counter so you modify your technique so the counter doesn't work so I come up with a modified counter so it does work so you modify your technique again... in two or three iterations of this we are using techniques that don't exist outside our inbred little training hall and have counters that apply nowhere in the real world.
In situationals, you have to be sure that the people giving the problem (uke) are acting natural, not adapting to the solution. The best tactic I've found for fighting out of groups, for instance, is not to fight. It's a wedge and swimming motion that gets you out of the circle or through the mass quickly with relatively little damage. But it predicates either on a group trying to put the boot to you or a panicked crowd. When the group starts to prioritize immobilizing first, the swim is neutralized... but, with the exception of one team prison shanking, I haven't seen that in the wild.
The second type of scenario training I learned as "The Sharpness Exercise" (translated). Hogan's Alley, basically. You give the operator or team a reason to run a maze-- officer down at the end, 911 call from a kid hiding from intruders somewhere in the house... different things for different agencies in different parts of the world. As they run the maze, they will be presented with problems-- booby traps, ambushes, different threats requiring different levels of response, and innocent people as well.
Done well, Sharpness is a great exercise for adapting on the fly, for using your whole range of force options, and for practicing judgement and articulation. It takes a little more equipment and prep than situationals, but a lot less than full blown scenarios.
I've seen this exercise go very badly when the instructor was trying to make a point about how dangerous the world was. Everything was booby-trapped, every hostage you rescued was actually a bad guy with a concealed gun, the other guy in uniform was an imposter and assassin... I played for one of these at the academy years ago when I was young and stupid and couldn't tell intense training from good training. That Hogan's Alley made the officers so paranoid that they were useless on the job until after they got over it.
Full-blown scenario training is difficult and expensive. It requires armor. It requires an environment, either a real place or a modular training space. You want simunitions if you're teaching professionals. An absolute minimum of a three-man team (Facilitator, Safety Officer and at least one Role Player). The safety protocols must be detailed and must be enforced. It's not easy to do, even harder to do well.
On the plus side, scenarios are ideal for practicing judgment in tandem with skills. They allow you to test and work everything from tactics to emotional growth. They find holes and glitches like no other training. There's a big chapter on them in the Drills manual.
On the downside, they are very difficult to do well and safely. Safety runs from the hazards of a nearly full-contact fight (armor helps, but it's not perfect) to the environment (anything from rusty nails to a gaping hole where a staircase used to be) to pure negligence (about once a year someone gets lazy or complacent on the safety protocols and a live weapon shows up in a scenario.)
And, if the scenario designer, Role Player or Facilitator are ignorant or ego-driven, scenarios can ruin a student. If the training team decides to "be tricky" or "be challenging" that means "be artificial" and they will teach untruth and, under the adrenaline of a scenario ingrain that untruth hard. If they don't understand criminals, the student can't learn what works and what doesn't, only what works or doesn't when dealing with poor actors. If the RP or Facilitator need to win, to prove that they are better or tougher or more tactically sound than the student, they will, consciously or not, punish the student for any solution that is better than the one they envisioned.
Recently I found myself passing a few days under observation in the specialist surgery ward of one of the local hospitals due to an obstruction in my airway. While I was there one of the young nurses who had moved to the UK from Portugal came to talk to me about karate as she had seen my occupation on my notes and wanted to ask about training in Oxford. The problems the young lady faced were finding a club with a similar atmosphere and training regime to the Shotokan she had practiced in Portugal, and finding a way to train that could accommodate her varying shift patterns as a nurse.
I think both of these represent common issues for many martial artists, and in many respects her first ‘problem’ is probably more prevalent in the martial arts than in any other form of physical exercise.
The young nurse had trained to a 6 Kyu level in Shotokan in Portugal and was looking to continue in England. This should in theory not be a problem, after all Shotokan is one of the most popular and widespread karate systems in the world. The difficulty lay in finding the ‘right’ type of Shotokan.
I have trained with Shotokan karateka from eleven different associations in the UK that I know of, probably more besides at a few ‘big’ seminars back in the 1990s, and I’ve also been fortunate to train with American and European Shotokan karateka during my travels. Like any modern karateka of this age I’ve also been privileged to be able to see many more members of the same system (or indeed any system) share their training through video media on the internet. While there are many things that unite these karateka, it would also be fair to say that they are all different, in a myriad of subtle ways. A karate style so big and so widespread cannot be like a single set model of a car, absolutely standardized throughout the world (or even a single country). To continue the analogy, different ‘same style karate’ organisations have different interior trims, different in-car media platforms, different paint jobs, different brake and wheel types, different engine sizes running unleaded or diesel, and different fuel management settings programmed into the computer. There’s probably one that even has a Neil Diamond cassette tape in the glove compartment (you know who you are). Beneath all this they are still the same car, they are still ‘Shotokan’, but even then within different clubs in those associations the way you learn to drive that car (and how you are allowed to drive that car in class) will vary according to the instructor, as will whether different models are recognized as ‘the same’ and allowed to continue, or forced to change to their ‘default factory settings’.
It is a hard truth that every club (even within the same system) is going to be different. It is the sum not only of the style, but of the pedagogy of the instructor (team), the venue, and crucially the membership. The age and health diversity of the members, the mix of ages and sexes in class (or not), the aims of the students in training: all of these put yet another spin on the class. You cannot step into the same river twice: you have to accept that in training with someone else things will be different, but that different is not necessarily better or worse (for you) and the onus is on you to make the most of it. In moving from one area of the world to another it is rare that you will see something that looks ‘the same’ straight away, even in the same style of martial art: the important thing is to observe, choose something to try, and accept the potential offered by the change. As I have written in short blog posts about contact in training, six things you should do in your training and speed in training, variety and different training methods can all bring benefits.
Attending a new class can be daunting, whatever your grade, because those pesky belts can carry expectations. That can especially be true if work and family patterns mean that despite your enthusiasm and best intentions, actual attendance is irregular. The less you attend a class, or the larger the gap between lessons, the harder it can become to return. Self containing walls of comfort, fatigue and apathy are surprisingly easy to build.
Irregular training is the death knell of martial arts participation and progress, but it is not the same as infrequently attending class. As Gichin Funakoshi observed in his 20 precepts,
“Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.”
- Not being able to get to class does not mean you cannot train.
- Not having the time to build a sweat doing karate (or any other martial art) does not mean you cannot train.
- Training is cumulative: regular short practices will maintain (and can improve) your technique (and flexibility, and concentration, and strength, and resolve to continue to attend class) if not your aerobic or anaerobic capacity.
- Short intensive bursts of non karate exercise for aerobic and anaerobic benefit can complement slow methodical karate training with results that are on a par with (or superior to) long ‘treadmill’ aerobic karate (or other martial arts) classes in a club.
Since I first began training in karate I have taken a rather literal leaf from Gichin Funakoshi’s precepts. I almost always do karate while I’m boiling the kettle, or if not boiling the kettle then while I’m keeping an eye on something that’s cooking.
This is an easy free time to train. I’ve trained in kitchens big enough to do entire forms, but actually all I really need is the space to stand in a stance and rotate my hips. Good quality training does not have to be complicated or require lots of space, or even lots of continuous time: repetition is the key. On the spot (whether for a minute or five or twenty between other little jobs) I can work on almost anything. Even if I can’t make someone else’s class, or set aside a full hour for training on my own at home, I can still manage anywhere from five to sixty minutes in a day in short stints if I really want, and it does all add up. This keeps the kettle boiling and the water hot. It is not a substitute for paired training or attending classes, but a complimentary way of maintaining and refining elements of your skillset so that when you do work with other people you get more from the experience.
Keeping training does not have to be hard if you take it one step at a time.
Humans don't think about what we think about. And even more rarely think about how we think. I was told long ago that breathing and walking were two things that everyone does but few do well because they breathe and walk without thinking about it. Unconscious skills don't get developed. I think I can add communication to that list and a bunch of other things.
And now time.
It's not special-- I think everyone who does emergency work thinks about time this way. So I didn't know it was rare.
Apparently, most people envisage time, if they think of it at all, as this medium in which things happen. We live our lives in time. We move through time. They think of time (or fail to think of it) the way fish think or fail to think about water.
For fighters, time is a resource, an extremely limited resource. Everything takes time, and time spent doing one thing (prepping equipment) cannot be spent doing something else (developing a tactical plan).
Time can be given, taken or stolen. It can be wasted. The scary man reaches under his jacket and you think he might be drawing a weapon but you want to be sure... You've given him time. And wasted your own. And put a cognitive mechanism in place ('I want to be sure' which means 'I want to be consciously sure') that guarantees you will use data inefficiently and waste more time at each step.
If I press, the threat has to make a decision, usually a hasty one. If I don't press, the threat will use his time-- to observe or plan or move or...--and how he uses that time will tell me who he is.
You can make people think that time exists when it does not. We frequently used a fake count down before a cell extraction.
The ability to understand and use discretionary time is the hallmark difference between a pro and a rookie. If there is time to think and plan and communicate, the pro does so, the rookie rushes. The pro spends the time wisely. When there is no longer time to think, when the door bangs open or something shiny flashes at your belly, the pro doesn't waste time thinking, he or she moves...and often the rookie tries to think or plan or get some detail of information, trying to spend time he doesn't have.
Infighters process time and space at another level. Close is fast. Time is distance and at that range you have damn little of either. In addition, anything you do potentially changes everything. A slight pressure with your knee can change the vector of an incoming strike and the location of the threat's head, for instance.
This is the part I'm struggling to describe. In a close brawl or doing infighting randori at a decent level of skill, time ceases to be linear. Something that objectively, on video, would be a sequence of action is all one thing. It feels like it happens in chunks. A lot of it is simultaneous, you can pop the knee while clotheslining the jawline, but the things that led there and the things that follow and anything the threat does or fails to do... those all seem part of a whole that teleported into existence as a complete object.
Sorry for the tortured metaphors. This is really hard to describe. And it gets worse, because the threat isn't part of the equation. Not at the time level. When it's go, you're both on it. And if you have to see what the threat does in order to decide what you will do, you're behind the curve and will never catch up, not at this range. He has his chunk of time and will do things with it. You have your chunk of time and will do things with it. But cognitively, for infighters, those chunks don't intersect.
There's also a common assumption about time. It's subconscious, but it really changes the affordances. When people fight, it's a form of communication. Basically a conversation with fists and boots. Many good fighters are taken out in an assault because they subconsciously follow the conversation pattern-- Fighter A does something and fighter B reacts and fighter A reacts... and in this pattern there are tiny pauses (a bad fighter waits for the pauses, a good fighter creates them) that signal whose turn it is.
This subconscious assumption of shared time isn't true. Reliably you can take someone out-- take 'em down, spin them prone and cuff them quickly and safely if you do it fast and decisively. Not because you're that good or the technique is that good. If you act without the expected pauses, people working under the shared time illusion are subconsciously waiting for you to signal their turn to respond. Reading this, that sounds esoteric and intellectual, but it's the best description I have of the difference between the force incidents that turned into fights and the ones (some of which were objectively more dangerous-- weapons, etc.) which just ended in a heartbeat.
But that shared time is illusion. We don't have time in a fight. I have time and you have time. If you are waiting for a pause, you aren't using your time and become meat. And your ability or choice to use your time and how you will use it can and should (maybe) be completely independent of what I do with my time. Unless, of course, you are manipulating my time.
Not sure I can really explain this. Grapplers have a completely different understanding of moving a body than strikers, and it's so subconscious it is really hard to explain simple things, like "make your hands sticky" to people who don't know the feel. It's kind of the same way with infighting and time.
I recently had an epiphany.
There I was in the cafeteria, waiting on my burrito supreme (the one that has the extra sour cream), when I noticed some of the fit, healthy looking guys from the gym.
As they walked past me I glanced at their trays. One guy had a small cup of soup, the other a tiny salad. Appetizer, I thought. First course, I hoped.
But then I saw them heading straight to the cashier, buying nothing else along the way. They didn't even look at the potato salad. No cookies. No burger. Not even banama puddin. Nada.
Then a thought hit me! I seriously hated these S.O.B.s.
Then the second thought hit me, they're lean because they eat lean.
So I decided that I too would strive to eat leaner. "Stay hungry", wasn't that the mantra of the young body building champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger?
The next day I packed my lunch. A handful of almonds. A few slices of lean, low-sodium lunch meat. Some celery for roughage. A cup of plain yogurt. A thermos of skim milk. A pear for dessert.
"I can do this!", I thought to myself, "I can just say no to bad foods and big servings!"
Trying to ignore the hunger pangs was the worst part of it. I sipped cups of hot water with a slice of lemon. I chugged bottled water every half hour or so and popped sugar free peppermint candy.
The first few days were the roughest. But by the end of the week it started to get easier.
The first time I had to cinch up my belt was glorious. And within a couple of weeks I even actually had to punch a new hole.
The other day I was back in the cafeteria, getting a small salad. A big guy from the gym was standing in line waiting on his sub sandwich. He looked at me and waved, and I'm pretty sure he glanced down at my tray.
It's a month, but that's not much time. Things that need to happen:
- Rehab the knee. Harder and better. And try not to injure it again.
- Rethink, plan and execute working out. Three (or is it four?) years of continuous leg injuries. "Nurse Ratchett" used her mad tui-na skills to pop the bone in my ankle back into place. The metatarsal break will never completely heal and I'm used to that so it's just the knee-- so now it's time to find a way to get the wind and muscle tone back up.
- Tied into above-- need to make some specific incremental changes in living. Not enough to do new things, I need to modify some deep-seated habits.
- Work on the property and the house. Over two months of neglect means about a year's worth of work. Make a daily dent.
- Work stuff-- book writing has to go on hold for a bit. Need to script (wrong word, my usual script for a three-hour video is a single page, nothing we've filmed is staged. More bullet points) "InFighting" and a "Scaling Force" tie-in to shoot in July.*
- Have to become a business man. Emotionally, this is the hard one. Lots of internal contradictions ( I like capitalism-- the free market concept has done more to make peace possible than anything else, at the same time like a lot of kids raised poor there is an instinct that money is dirty and only bad people make a lot.) Some contradictions with the world-- I really want to get to the point where I can teach for free, but it's been made abundantly clear this year that pricing too low (something I especially do when I believe in the mission) costs not only contracts but credibility.
- Part of the business is breaking down exactly what I do, what can be delegated, anything I'm doing in person that can be done another way.
- Work on getting the word out about the CRGI launch. Contact some potential guest contributors.
- Trivia. I'm about ten days behind on e-mail. Have to send a blurb on the essence of infighting out. Did a podcast interview and need to send a bio.
- Connect. Haven't had much time for friends and family. Want to make the time and at the same time, there is so much work to do. It's easy to let the soft obligations slide.
*Thoughts out loud about these. For infighting, I need to get together with my local crew and a few strangers to bang it out and decide what must be in it, what should be in it, and what can be left out. I'm leery of filming this. Pretty much by definition if you set up infighting so the camera can see it, you aren't doing it right. But David Silver's crew is pretty ingenious.For "Scaling Force" Lawrence can't make the filming and I want to cancel, but both Lawrence and David are insisting. What I want to cover is threat assessment:
- Am I in Danger?
- How much danger? And what force does that require?
- Test questions
Plus, I'm teaching an on-line class for writers starting in ten days.
The second half of a two part interview with Sensei Chuck Merriman. 10 questions, Balance and why it is sought. The translation of culture. The difference between Okinawa and Japan. Showing up for class, what it means and how it is done. Keeping your enemies close and your friends closer and why that is a good policy. Strides, defections, and more.
Infighting is close work. And fast. You have to do most of it by touch. And defense becomes about controlling space and structure, not intercepting attacks. You need drills to get this down, just like anything else. But the drill isn't the thing.
In order to teach or communicate, you have to break things down. Defense and offense. Foot and hand motion. For infighting: locks; takedowns; structure manipulations; spine manipulations; hand, foot, elbow, knee, head, forearm,shin, shoulder and hip strikes; crashing; gouging...maybe biting. Plus the general stuff of orientation and controlling pockets of space.
But no matter how good you are at defense, something will get in eventually. So in addition to protecting yourself, you must finish the threat. And for infighting especially, this is simultaneous, not a sequence. (Really struggling with how to write about the perception of time to fighters, BTW). Not protect and attack. Not even simultaneous block and strike. Your attacks are your defenses, your defenses are attacks. Not in the sense that you can hit someone upside the head with something you usually call a block. In the sense that the elbow driving into the left side of his neck prevents him from lifting his right foot for a knee strike.
So you have to learn defense and you have to practice defense and it seems easiest to do so in isolation. My dad made me practice shifting gears with the engine off before we tried any driving. That's the way we teach, the way we communicate. Because time is linear, maybe, or we can only use one word at a time. But none of this stuff is used in isolation, at least, not if you're any good.
But the very fact that the defense chapter is separate from the other chapters risks putting it in the student's head as a distinct category. Creating one of the mental boxes that makes most people so inefficient, uncoordinated. Not integrated.
This disconnect must be everywhere. We learn pieces of things and sequences that by their nature are parts of integrated wholes. And there must be a training for the integration. I have that for infighting, not worried... but how many other life skills are learned in pieces? And because it is the normal way to teach, it becomes the normal way to learn. But is it the only way? Or the best?
"Well, you could have been anything that you wanted to
And I can tell, the way you do the things you do."
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, more than 40 percent of the actions people perform each day aren’t due to some well planned, rational-based, decision-making process, but instead are actually habits.
To put it another way, we do what we do. What we do regularly becomes a habit. Most of us, without knowing it, are stuck on a hamster wheel, repeating the same old habits over and over.
So, if that's true, if we end up doing what we regularly do, why do we do such weird, wacky stuff in our martial arts training? Why do we make a habit out of training for situations that are unlikely to occur? Why do we practice highly technical, inefficient and ineffective or outdated techniques? Why do we stress the art and the flash and the precision while often forgetting the practical and the common sense and the down to earth? Why do we spend so much time on fancy flourishes?
Why don't we get off that hamster wheel?
Well, it's what we do, it's where we're comfortable. Change is uncomfortable and often avoided.
So now that I've got that off my chest, here are some pictures of people doing some of odd ball things. It's what we do.
There for a brief shining moment,
Phil actually believed he was channeling his inner eagle. __________________________________________________
Bill's shadow puppets were very popular at kids' parties. Here he is making a horsie.__________________________________________________
Everybody was kung fu fighting...no, seriously,
Derrick never expected the inverted YMCA move...
but let's face it, no one ever does.
Andre calls this his pretzel stance.__________________________________________________
"I believe I can fly...(oof)"__________________________________________________
"I was in the alley when 3 big muggers approached me,
and I went...something...like...this..."
No one gets to go to the outhouse until he gets past
Larry, "Guardian of the Gate."
Smell it...go on, SMELL IT!
Hey! Nice jugs!
Try as he might, Tony could not get that guy off his foot.
Once again the Marines had to cancel their landing because the beach was just too heavily protected.
Here's Stan, a man outstanding in his field. Get it?
Out standing in his field? Oh forget it.
Wait, before you attack, you might just want to take a second and read what it says right there on my headband.
Meditation...it's all about stillness, and relaxation and being calm...unless Pat forgets the Ritalin again.
Guess who lost a bet earlier that day?
Open your mouth and say "aaaaaah"
Gymkata. I don't have any funny comments.
I paid good money to go and see it.
Let THAT sink in.
Flex Stick...never leave home without it. __________________________________________________
Paul preferred a subtle look for his martial arts fashion.
__________________________________________________ Of COURSE I'm a member...eat your heart out. __________________________________________________
Seriously, I'm not kidding...this is a real, intentional, undoctored picture.
As a wise friend likes to point out, we are all teachers.
But I hate being a teacher.
The teacher/student relationship is incredibly toxic for self-defense. And it is incredibly limited and limiting for any real growth or deep internal work.
Toxic for self-defense. The core skill of SD, beyond hitting and hurting, even beyond awareness, is the ability to stand up for yourself. The skills to see what is going on and make a decision are vital, but in the end, you have to be able to act on that decision. If you can't act, your understanding and situational awareness skills will only serve to make you a smarter, more aware victim. This decision to act is not made in a vacuum. There will be another personality there, the threat, and he or she also wants this to end a certain way. And the threat will use power-- physical, personal, voice, authority, threats...-- to make you do what he wants, not what you want.
And so spending six hours a week with an authority figure, doing what he wants in training, may be the exact opposite of the internal training a student needs.
It can be even worse in martial arts. If you pick the right art and the right school the kid who was always picked last for kickball can convince himself he's not just an athlete but a martial athlete. You can convince yourself that you are a great fighter or a "warrior" without ever experiencing real pain or fear. And the person without the social skills to get a date, if he sticks it out long enough, can be called "master" and demand that his students kneel. You can see why this is a petri dish for certain predatory personality types. And even if the instructor isn't a predator, the system itself is ripe for abuse.
Limited and limiting. Most of our concepts of learning came from our experiences in schools, naturally. We all spent twelve or more years running through what was essentially a factory. Time scripted. Tasks designated. Every assignment judged. There have always been a few extraordinary teachers, but generally any creativity snuffed on sight. Can't speak for everyone, but I've never been sent to the principal's office or had my parents called for doing bad work... but I have for pulling out an encyclopedia and proving the teacher wrong. I never saw stupidity or ineffectiveness punished in the place I was sent to learn. The only sin was disobedience.
And that shared experience is the idea of teaching and learning that we all too often take to other training.
You can't become proficient at chaos by rote. You need to play. To mix it up, to make mistakes. You need to play with people so much better that they remind you there are levels of skill alien to you, and play with people of passion with no skill because they'll surprise you, too. But chaos is scary for some. As soul-crushing as I think our educational system is designed to be, it created a comfort zone and people try to recreate that comfort zone in the dojo. Complete with an imaginary imbalance of power, as if the students were first graders and the teacher the only adult.
You can't learn the stuff you need to know from that dynamic. It's too limited. And it is also limiting, because once you accept an authority figure as a font of knowledge you lose the habit of thinking for yourself (assuming you had that habit to begin with.) NO ONE has all the answers. There are no experts in this field. And even if someone knew everything there was to know about violence, that person still wouldn't know you, not the way that you do. And you are a big part of any situation.
A training environment where all acceptable answers come from a source outside yourself limits some of your greatest survival advantages: Your creativity and your adaptability.
Given all this...ahem... if you sent me an e-mail recently asking me to be your guru and I went a little ballistic, this is why. It's one of my buttons.
This debate comes up regularly on martial arts forums and such discussions tend to produce variations on a number of regular characters:
- The person who is convinced that whatever he or she does in class will work.
- The person who sees kicking as a low percentage strategy but advocates low kicks if kicks are used at all.
- The person who has used kicks ‘in real fights’ and therefore believes that they are a high percentage effective strategy, especially high kicks.
- The person who has used kicks in competitive fighting and therefore believes they can do so in self defence.
- The person who has no opinion but just wants information.
- The troll.
So who’s right?
When it comes to applying martial arts techniques in self defence, context and training methods determine the results. We get good at what we train for.
If you don’t train kicks regularly then the likelihood of being able to use them in a self defence situation decreases considerably. Whether you can use kicks bears no relation to what someone else has reputedly done in self defence or in the ring, it depends not only on how much you train them, but how you train them. If the opportunity to kick comes in the form of relative positioning and pressure that you are used to then you are likely to be able to employ that skillset. Everything comes down to how you train and to a large extent how many of the six things you should do in physical training for self defence are present in your approach.
Last year I put together a video showing all the kicks and attempted kicks used by participants from a range of different martial disciplines in my scenario training. The clips came from hundreds of simulations, but featured very few kicks indeed. This was in part due to the enclosed environment, but primarily because most people had no experience in trying to kick at that range under those conditions. Although we don’t kick in many of our regular drills, my students kicked the most because the environment and range was familiar. This video contains profanity from the start.
So can you kick in self defence?
Only you can decide that.
Civilian scenario training, like we did in Sheffield, is more complex and more dangerous (on may levels, not just physical) than most of what I see out there. Unlike police scenario training, you aren't working with a population who have been through psychological batteries and have a baseline of training. If you do it long enough, you will get psychological breakdowns. Part of the job is to bring the scenarios as close to the student's core as you safely, realistically (two different things), think you can. So hitting the edge is expected, but sometimes you will hit it inadvertently. Side effect of lack of psychological batteries is that you won't know where the suppressed mindfields (I like that pun) lie.
With a skilled facilitator, that's not usually a problem. If the facilitator is aware and understands dynamics, hitting the edge becomes a huge win, a rare insight that others can never truly share.
But outside of scenario training, people process big events on their own. Or with amateurs (friends) who may care, but may have no idea of what hitting an edge is like. Or with others who were exposed to the same event and will be trying, with very varied levels of success, to deal with the same issues. In the wild, as opposed to good training or, say, exposure to events with an experienced team or FTO, processing tends to be a crapshoot.
Most people adapt. There are relatively few events that can crush the psyche of a fairly healthy human. Very few environments where a human will hit unrecoverable exhaustion before they hit adaptation. People adapt, that's what they do. So most people are or become okay. For various values of 'okay.'
There are two common reactions of the people who do well. Both are acts of will, both are active instead of passive, but they are very different.
One decides that there are forces in the world beyond personal control and concentrates on internal and personal work: learning, training. Becoming more aware, informed, adaptable and tough.
The other decides not to change and focuses on forcing the world to change. Controlling the behavior of people nearby, trying to change social norms, laws and policies.
Objectively, with my reasoning mind, both methods of adaptation are admirable. The second, even, is the core of changing the world for the better, maybe. But my emotional reaction, my Monkey Brain, feels that the second way is on the same continuum as bullying, that these former victims have discovered a version of the power that was used against them and have become a reflection of what they hate and fear. And some revel in that power.
Forcing change is still using force. Making people be what you want them to be against their desires is exactly what your victimizer did to you. You can tell yourself that it's different because the change you demand is right and good. But some extraordinarily bad people have said that as well.
But that's probably just my Monkey Brain talking.
Mental, physical and spiritual. Three dimensions that all of this stuff (fighting, relationships, life, whatever) share. I'm always uncomfortable with the concept of 'spiritual' and the implications of the word-- but I know that mental and physical are not enough to describe sensation.
One example, that comes easily right now. Physical and mental exhaustion are not the same as emotional exhaustion.
Long ago, our highschool basketball coach (yes, I played highschool basketball at 4'10" advantage of a school with only twenty-nine total students) had us do an exercise called a "chinese chair". Backs against the wall, hands over head, up on toes and knees bent so that the thighs were parallel to the ground. Everyone had trembling thighs very quickly. Only two of us finished two minutes and neither of us could walk afterwards. The coach said that if anyone collapsed and could walk afterwards, their bodies hadn't failed, their minds had.
Physical exhaustion. Climbing or judo (or milking cows) hands would go to total muscle failure again and again. You learned to rest them, stretch them and get them back to work as soon as possible. BCT we would do pushups to failure and then a partner would support part of our weight so we could do more. For endurance running, tasting blood in my mouth was the sign that the real training was about to begin.
That's not the same as mental exhaustion, and I've experienced that mostly with sleep deprivation. Forty hours in I start to hallucinate. Run multiple days on one or two hours of sleep and muscle tics and tremors develop. Eyes get less sharp. It's hard to monitor your own thinking, but mentally tired makes me stupid as well, and frequently stubborn. Emotions come to the surface. For me, especially, a sense of other people's physical and emotional weakness.
But there is a completely different type of exhaustion. Physically great. Calm, hydrated (dehydration can cause the symptoms of all three kinds of tired) and well-rested. But soul tired. Every human voice and presence is scratching on a raw nerve. My beloved K knows when I am getting "peopled-out" and insists on a rest day-- at home or in the woods, no contact, no phone, no computer.
This is a different kind of tired than being physically or mentally tired. I know other introverts feel it but honestly don't know if extraverts can relate. For me, one of the physical symptoms is that it becomes very difficult to make eye contact, it feels like a force is pushing my eyes away from faces. Spiritually tired. Burn-out, I think, is the high end version. Burnout in our (actually, my old) profession can come from big events, seeing something dark; or a lot of cumulative events. Sometimes from the internal expectation of being the only one who can handle the bad things and always stepping up or always being ready to step up and denying ourselves down-time.
Alone time is the cure. Maybe. Sometimes the big things process better with someone to talk to. But alone time is looking really precious right now.
At some point in time almost everyone who exercises will sustain an injury that limits their ability to train in the martial arts. It may occur during training or randomly in daily life. Even those who are lucky enough to avoid breaks, sprains, strains, or hernias may catch a cold or flu, or have to miss training for a period of time due to a medical condition. Those who successfully avoid any of these hurdles may find that family or work commitments may also interfere with training. It is rare to find anyone who has trained for a sustained amount of time who hasn’t had something external happen that could have stopped them from training.
I’ve had my fair share of injuries over the time I’ve been training in the martial arts; I even started karate with a broken wrist in a fibreglass cast. I’ve also had two transplants since I began and a number of other operations, in addition to having permanent catheters that went into my abdominal cavity and also into my bloodstream for several months. I’ve also worked in jobs that consisted of shifts spread through both the evenings as well as the day and over thirteen days a fortnight. As a result I can empathise with people who have had to miss training for a few weeks.
It’s easy for a few weeks to become a longer period of time, or even never. The longer you stay away from training the harder that first step of going back can seem. It’s easy to find excuses not to go: that little muscle twinge, feeling tired, housekeeping that needs doing, that good program on the TV, or the simple appreciation of how comfortable the couch is. Training is always a little bit harder when you return after a period of absence, particularly if you have had to recover from a physical injury or operation. In some respects it is like being a beginner again, only your brain knows what you want to do and the body doesn’t comply, or the body complies but isn’t flexible or strong enough to do so without giving you considerable aches and pains the next day. Pain which your prior level of conditioning may have led you to forget.
Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, accept that it isn’t going to be easy, and make the effort. The longer you stay away the harder it will be. In the past I have trained with clubs as quickly as possible after major surgery because I knew that the longer I left it, the less likely it would be that I would return. I have also trained with tubes going into my body taped to the outside.
Good instructors are not monsters. They would rather see you training slowly at the side, and getting advice to assist your physical recuperation, than have you leave. If you aren’t ready or well enough to train, visiting and watching will help remind you of what made you stay before, and encourage you in your recovery.
Returning to training needn’t be torture, and the time you have spent away from training needn’t be detrimental. Stepping back a bit, watching others more, and working slowly can even be better for your skill development than the classes you missed.
To help you ease back into training, don’t expect everything to be perfect straight away. Your objectives should be SMART, that is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Time limited. Don’t be disheartened if you have to be flexible with them, the important thing is to keep working, it simply means that you over-estimated how achievable something was in the timeframe you set.
Getting back up after being knocked down isn’t easy. Going back to train isn’t easy. But if you are able to bite the bullet and try, you may find you can do more than you thought possible.
In this episode Lawrence and Kris field a little listener mail and how that has effected a couple of life decisions. Having both been in Judo and specifically at the Seattle Judo Dojo Lawrence and Kris talk about their Judo Sensei Kenji Yamada, who recently passed. Then a new section called, “That’s Stupid.” and Lawrence points out how acts of stupid behavior rarely escape without some form of penalty to mind, pocket, or body.
There are lots of different ways to train in the martial arts. Different systems and indeed different teachers will weight their training along diverging lines according to their training aims, the student to coach ratio and the type of students they have. No matter how long we train, whichever way we turn, the roots of our progress lie in our attention to basic principles and the level of our understanding as to why we train in the manner we do. After writing a blog post on the subject of speed in training (here) I was asked about my thoughts on the relative merits of solo training, paired drilling and live sparring. All of these are useful forms of training, but in the majority of martial arts a focus on one alone will not develop as skilled or able a practitioner as the appropriate use of all three. The knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of each method should be understood.
Solo training can take many different forms. In this instance I am referring to training away from class or training partners rather than drilling techniques ‘solo’ in class. With this in mind the training can involve making contact on a striking surface, with all the benefits I described here, or nothing more than yourself and an empty space in which you can move. There are considerable benefits to training impact techniques solo against a bag, in particular the ability to go at your own pace and focus on elements in isolation, and not having one person neglecting their skillset by holding a pad (though being the pad holder can develop other useful skills – of which more later). Solo training is extremely valuable, and I would be the first to say that of all my training hours at least 70% have been solo, but it should never be seen as a replacement for any form of paired training, rather a complement to it. A practitioner needs to already have a good skill level to gain anywhere near the same amount of benefit from solo training as from paired training.
Correct biomechanics – ‘perfect practice’
Facilitates injury recovery
Allows more time for high quality visualisation during techniques or drills
Means of maintaining or refining skill without a training partner
Can improve power generation and striking technique without ‘wasting’ a training partner’s time
Can improve applied strength and balance
No external pressure
Very little feedback / resistance (in non impact work)
Limited value for techniques that rely on tactile feel (such as grappling) unless practitioner is extremely advanced and can utilize their memory to enhance rehearsal
Does not work reaction time
Limited value for training appropriate timing
Danger of rehearsing and ingraining poor technique, particularly in new students
Paired drilling is the form of training that makes up the majority of the classes that I teach. It can take the form of trainees attacking each other with pre-set techniques and defending with previously learned drills (with varying degrees of flexibility on either side according to speed and experience) or practicing power generation against partner-held moving or static pads, or even against an armoured partner, the benefit of which I have discussed previously here. The training can be done at a variety of different speeds depending on the desired outcome and format of the class. Depending on the system being trained, paired training can bring disadvantages as well as advantages. As an example, in self defence orientated systems students may often spend time drilling a less desirable technique such as a telegraphed haymaker for their partner rather than a less telegraphed pre-emptive straight palm strike or jab to the head, though a skilled coach can find ways to mitigate this. While a person is holding and moving pads for their partner to hit they are obviously not working their physical skills, which can be seen as a disadvantage, so it should be stressed that in doing so they are working their strength and stamina, often practicing maintaining their guard, developing a combative mind-set by standing fast against their partner’s attacks, and learning more about how both to use a technique and defend against it by observing their partner’s telegraphs and overall biomechanics.
Immediate feedback – pad work / pre-arranged combative drills
Controlled predictability allowing for technique learning, introspection, observation, coaching and refinement
Develops distancing and timing appropriate for the activity being trained
Excellent for developing reaction speed
Can improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness
Can improve confidence
So long as students are not complacent can allow fast training with a high degree of safety
Often benefits one person’s physical technique more than another, especially in self defence training and pad work
Can be inappropriate for a student with injuries or medical problems
In theory live sparring may be what the majority of martial artists aspire to. If you are training for the competitive arena, or for self defence, the ability to execute techniques with precision at full speed under the pressure created by unpredictability is surely one of the most important aims of any trainee. There are many advantages of training this way, both psychological and physical.
Training unpredictably brings with it the danger of being hit – and the natural fear in many people of pain or injury. This in turn puts an element of pressure in the performance that cannot be matched in other forms of training (unless students are engaged in drilling where they have to be hit). Successful selection and performance of techniques under the conditions of live sparring builds real confidence appropriate to the arena being trained.
In physical terms, only unpredictable training can assess the accuracy of a student’s ability to read body movements and spot the telegraphs of techniques in time for threat avoidance, and put their reaction time and speed of movement to a real test – whether in attack or defence.
The disadvantages of live sparring are linked to its role within the training regime. When a person moves fast and are under pressure, or even if the live sparring is done slowly and they are simply having to improvise in reaction to an unexpected event, they tend to make mistakes: non optimal postures, over-extension, greater telegraphing, not enough torso or hip rotation to give a technique as much power as it could have. How well a person performs in live sparring is dependant upon a number of factors, but two very simple ones are:
- how familiar they are with working under those conditions,
- how skilled is their existing technique.
Regular live sparring will address the first factor, but spending too much time in live training is likely to be detrimental to the second, since the more you rehearse a technique sub optimally – the more likely you are to perform that way consistently: practice does not make perfect: only perfect practice makes perfect.
Only real test of practicable ability
Develops anaerobic fitness
Excellent for developing reaction speed
Develops distancing and timing appropriate for the activity being trained
Places students under psychological stress.
Over use will reinforce poor technique
Generally does not allow for refinement as fine motor skills will be inaccessible if placed under real pressure
Can only be sustained for short periods of time.
Just like judging a system by how many students it has, how many techniques it has or how fast they are training, something impressive and useful as live sparring can be a false indicator of the quality of training. A predominant focus on unpredictable training does not necessarily develop skilled students, and while a lot of paired drilling or solo training may be less visually impressive, it can not only be technically and physically demanding, but also be a reliable way to develop a high level of skill. Too much of any type of training has the potential to be detrimental. Ideally training should be balanced, with different emphases on different methods according to the health and level of the student, but both students and coaches should know what they are aiming to achieve with each training method when they do employ it.