2014: a review

John Titchen's Blog - Sun, 2014-12-14 21:04

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 hospital bed. A sight I became all too familiar with in 2014.

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.

Third stay, with memory refreshed, I opted for the left hand.

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.

The second book in the series.

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.

Pierre Chassang illustrating a point about Sankyo with me as Uke.

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 – a short review

John Titchen's Blog - Sun, 2014-12-14 11:36

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.



Ron Goin's Blog - Sat, 2014-12-13 03:54
COMPLEX, DYNAMIC AND CHAOTIC“Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.”Henry Adams

“I accept chaos, I'm not sure whether it accepts me.”Bob Dylan
Visit some dojos and you might come away believing that combat is a disciplined, controlled and orderly activity.  Students move in unison, cooperate almost completely with one another, and they champion the concept that martial arts is all about self-discovery and self-development.  Watch a self-defense demonstration and you might see sequences of movements that, like dominoes arranged in a pattern, fall into place perfectly.

I have a much different view.  I have witnessed real violence, and I have on a few occasions witnessed violence up close and personal.  It is most certainly not controlled or orderly.  It is messy, and nasty, and fast, and ugly.

Complex and Dynamic

I have often said that fighting is chaotic, and it logically follows that we should prepare to deal with this chaos by introducing more chaotic elements into our training.

But in the world of science, and particularly in the field of mathematics, the term chaos has a very specific and precise definition.  I think it is important to understand this and other concepts so that we may better design our system of personal protection.

First, let's talk about the concept of a system.  In science and mathematics--the language of science--a system is some concrete or abstract area or field of study.  

We as martial artists and personal protection specialists focus our attention on the very concrete area of physical aggression, and the movements one takes to evade, neutralize and counterattack aggressive actions.  Thus we could say that we study, analyze and try to better understand the system of violent aggressive behavior, and we work towards developing a comprehensive system of personal protection tactics that allows us to survive a violent encounter.

We study observable behaviors, actions and responses, and we also trouble-shoot variables that might occur as these violent interactions take place.

At any point in time during a violent interaction, that is at a specific state, there are certain conditions and variables at play.  I have often referred to what I call the six phases of a physical attack, and these may be valuable in illustrating this concept:  (1)  Preparation; (2) Approach; (3) Delivery; (4) Execution; (5) Follow Thru; and (6) Recovery.  

A stop-action photograph for example could help us detect slightly different actions that subtly distinguish one phase from another.  Take a boxer's jab for example.  A jab normally begins from a boxer's on guard position (the preparation), then it requires a step (the approach), a forward movement of the hand and arm (the delivery), the full extension and snap of the fist (the execution and the follow thru), and the quick return to an on guard position (the recovery).  Obviously in real-time the steps or phases are seamless, and they flow together in continuous action.

One could look closely at any number of physical actions--from a golf swing, to a tennis forehand, to a double leg take-down in wrestling--and observe most if not all of these same six phases in action.

 If we are to study a system of hostile aggression in order to develop a system of self defense, a thorough understanding of the concept of a system is key.  

A simple system has a limited number of parts or steps, and there a few variables at play.  For example one could argue that throwing a frisbee or spinning a hula hoop--let's call these simple systems--are relatively simple actions with few variables and a small number of steps.  

A system of dealing with violent aggressive behavior however is most definitely not in this category.  It is, in contrast, a complex and dynamic system that is made up of a large number of simple steps, parts or actions with specific functional roles and which interact with each other to accomplish some greater functionality.

A complex system has built-in redundancy so that it can survive the removal of one or a small number of parts.  But it is, at the same time, efficient so that adding more and more parts does not necessarily add value or improve the functionality of the system.  

A complex system is generally represented as being impacted by time (phase space).  A chess game for example has a beginning or opening phase, a middle phase, and an end game.  Different tactics are at play, and different strategies may be utilized, at each of the various phases.  This may be referred to as a trajectory--the way the system unfolds or evolves over time.  In fact it is this fact of change-over-time that defines a system as dynamic.

The Value of Prediction

Let's take a quick side trip, shall we?  

I previously mentioned chess not by accident.  Chess, at first glance, may seem like a simple game with a specific number of pieces with a limited number of rules, but it is truly complex.  As Andrew Latham says "chess is actually very much a game of prediction..."   although a human player can memorize openings and endgame patterns, ultimately chess is not about determining the perfect moves so much as predicting which moves will lead to better positions.  This is the fundamental difference between tactics and strategy - tactics involve rote calculation with perfect information, while strategy is almost entirely predictive, making guesses based on foundational principles, human experience, and intuition as to which plans will yield the most promising positions, that is, those positions that have the best chance of yielding a win."  

Uber statistician Nate Silver, whose approach to collecting and analyzing data, what is known as 'probabilistic thinking,' says in his book The Signal and the Noise--Why So Many Predictions Fail-But Some Don't, that chess is a perfect analogy about complex, dynamic systems and predictive analysis.

At the beginning of a chess game, he says, there are 20 potential movements with white's opening, and 20 potential movements with black's responses.  This means there are 4,000 possible sequences after the first turn.  After the second turn there are 71,852 possible sequences, and after the third an amazing 9,132,484 possibilities.  If that blows your mind, consider this:  The number of possibilities in an entire game of chess, says Diego Rasskin-Gutman, is greater than the number of atoms in the universe.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If we compare the game of chess to a physical altercation and personal protection encounter, as many people have done, just imagine the number of possibilities in that there are significantly more options than a chess game.  Trying to make an accurate prediction of an outcome would be almost impossible since there is simply so much uncertainty.

Nate Silver says that there is an on-going tension between risk and uncertainty when trying to flawlessly predict outcomes.  In such areas as the long-range forecasting of weather patterns, trying to figure out the stock market, and making accurate and actionable earthquake predictions, there is always lots and lots and lots of data--some of which, says Silver, is nothing but noise.

A Today excerpt of Silver's book tells us that "stone-age strengths have become information-age weaknesses.  Human beings do not have very many natural defenses.  We are not all that fast, and we are not all that strong.  We do not have claws or fangs or body armor.  We cannot spit venom.  We cannot camouflage ourselves.  And we cannot fly.  Instead, we survive by means of our wits.  Our minds are quick.  We are wired to detect patterns and respond to opportunities and threats without much hesitation." 

What all this means is that we're very good at generalizing--"finding patterns in random noise."  Maybe that's why we see the face of Christ in a grilled cheese sandwich or why we see a structure in the shape of a human face in pictures of Mars.  

Silver says that the signal is the truth, the nugget of important information that we're looking for, but all the rest, the noise, is what distracts us from the signal.

Back to Chaos

A dynamic system has specific initial conditions.  That chess board we imagined for example begins with the pieces set up in a very specific order.  A dynamic system will change over time, and we can better predict the outcome, or generate a solution, if we clearly understand this initial state and the rules of the game.  But if we feed "solutions back into the rule as a new initial condition" (Rickles, Hawe and Shiell), we generate chaos.  

Chaotic systems are non-linear in that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Small changes, or interventions during the process, can have large outcomes (or vice versa) down the road.  

Another feature of any system is the presence (or absence)  of predictability.  A deterministic system or process is one in which the trajectories of the past and the future can be concluded from its present state.  If we drop the plate that we purchased at the crafts fair we can generally predict that it will break into dozens of pieces.  We also know that before it was a plate it was made up of raw materials in the potter's hands.  We can accurately predict both trajectories.

A semi-deterministic system on the other hand is one in which the future trajectory can be predicted, but not the past.  However in an indeterministic system one cannot even predict the future trajectory, because the change or evolution is random.

Cannon balls, clocks and the movement of the planets in our solar system are said to be deterministic systems.  "We ought to regard the present state of the universe," said Laplace, "as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the state that is to follow."  There is a sense of inevitability in a deterministic system.  Put on a DVD of "Enter The Dragon", for example, and the movie plays out the same way each time.

I was recently reading about Joe De Sena, creator of the Spartan obstacle-course races and a direct competitor of the Tough Mudder events.  Because of his philosophy that "we all need adversity to grow," racers are subject to his whims.  He just might arbitrarily extend a race as competitors get close to the finish line.  How indeterministic is that!     

"Chaos is the generation of complicated...seemingly random behaviour from the iteration of a simple rule.  This complicatedness is not complex in the sense of complex systems science, but rather it is chaotic in a very precise mathematical sense.  Complexity is the generation of rich, collective dynamical behaviour from simple interactions between large numbers of subunits.  Chaotic systems are not necessarily complex, and complex systems are not necessarily chaotic," (Rickles, Hawe and Shiell).

Both complex and chaotic systems are sensitive to initial conditions; however, they follow different trajectories over time, thus impacting one's ability to make predictions.

So What Does All This Mean?

Predictability and probability are important factors in a system of personal protection.  There are elements of chaos in the system of physical aggression that we study, and equally in any system we develop to defend against potential violence, and trying to predict what an attacker may do may be impossible.  Working towards determining and planning for each step of the action seems like an exercise in futility (just remember what Diego Rasskin-Gutman said about the number of possibilities in an entire game of chess being greater than the number of atoms in the universe).

It is this which seems out of place in the nice, orderly martial arts academies where carefully rehearsed, thoroughly choreographed routines of sequential movements are practiced and memorized by rote.

(1); (2); (3)


Defensive Parking and Common Sense

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2014-12-02 12:27

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.


The vehicle

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.

An old car of mine and a newer car of mine. Their different sizes and tolerances to impact greatly determines how I might have driven them defensively when I had them.

New Heian / Pinan Sandan book available!

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2014-11-25 23:06

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.


Ron Goin's Blog - Mon, 2014-11-24 15:26
HIP MOE TIEDMay I Make a Suggestion?
"Because there's no explaining what your imagination
Can make you see and feel
Seems like a dream
They got me hypnotized
" Fleetwood Mac

"You're fooling yourself if you don't believe it
You're kidding yourself if you don't believe it"

The Power of the Mind 

The British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell once went to his dentist with a toothache.  The dentist examined his mouth and asked, "Where does it hurt?"  

Russell answered, "In my mind, of course."  

He was right.  Pain is in the mind, and the means to neutralize pain may also reside somewhere in the mind.   

I used to know a guy who was in dental school.  He said that the school offered cut-rate prices to patients who were willing to come in and let the novice students practice their skills.  He told me about one particular patient, an older gentleman, who came in several times over the course of a few weeks because he needed a lot of work.  Surprisingly this patient always refused Novocaine or laughing gas.  Instead the gentleman would take a few minutes before any procedure and close his eyes and take several long, deep breaths.  Then, using nothing but the power of his mind, he didn't seem to feel pain from the dentist's drill.

When you think about it, maybe that's not all that unique.  According to psychologist Nichola Spanos, "Before the 19th century, all major surgery was done without anesthetics. Physicians sometimes found they could reduce pain with simple suggestions such as, 'you'll feel no pain'." 

Let that sink in a minute.  

All dental work, all surgery, the suturing of open wounds, the setting of broken bones, the treating of torn muscles and strained joints--all of this was done with just the power of suggestion to block mind-searing pain.

So the mind is extremely powerful and is open to suggestions.  

In times of dread and fear we can convince ourselves to be filled with boldness, and confidence and courage.  Using nothing but the power of our minds we can reduce or eliminate other negative sensations.  If you listen to those who claim to be able to help others with this incredible power you might come to believe that they can cure phobias and break lifelong habits instantly.  Perhaps they can even help you to stop a panic attack.  

But what exactly IS this power?  


"There are (several) major theories of what hypnosis is, from role playing to dissociation to an altered state," said Jeffrey Zeig, director of the Milton H. Erickson Society in Phoenix.

Some hypnotists believe that they can invoke an actual trance state where a person's subconscious mind--the mind behind the mind--is open to suggestions.  Others recognize that we probably all enter into this state without even realizing it.  We zone out while watching TV, or while reading a novel, or when working on a hobby or when we are daydreaming.  We pull into our garage at the end of the day, and we really can't remember the details of the drive home.  

There are a few hypnotists who claim to be able to help you to reprogram your brain, as if your mind runs on computer software.  They claim in that in just a few sessions using only deep relaxation and spoken suggestion they can help you to lose weight, stop smoking, get a better night's sleep, stay sharp and confident at your next job interview, or ace your university exams,

According to the How Things Work website, hypnosis is "pretty much the same thing as trance theory. When you absolutely convince somebody that you've brought about a change in their subconscious, they register this information as a fact. Like any fact, this information will take root in the subconscious mind. So, even if the hypnotic state is nothing more than a figment of the subject's imagination, hypnotic suggestions can still reform their deeply held beliefs. The end result is the same!"  

There may be a link between self-hypnosis and mindfulness.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the champions of using mindfulness training to help with stress, pain, and other health problems defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experiences moment by moment.”

But Does it Work?

I remember one night many years ago when I attended a stage hypnotist performance at a comedy club.  The show started out with people from the audience volunteering to get on stage and were then placed into a 'trance.'  At the hypnotist's command they started clucking like chickens or barking like dogs.  They became convinced that their wallet was on fire and that their tongues were too thick for their mouths.  Some remained glued to their seats, totally unable to move.  

After the show I saw some of the people who had been hypnotized.  They were talking and laughing, and I heard one of them say, "Man, that was a lot of fun."  Turns out the people weren't even hypnotized--no trance, no alternative consciousness, it was all just a big act.

Some researchers contend that hypnosis is merely grownups playing make believe or role-playing.   

Here's what researchers have discovered:

If you have an active imagination, if you are fantasy-prone, and if you believe that hypnosis works, odds are you'll be more responsive to hypnosis.

However, if you think it's all bunk, and that hypnosis is a bunch of rubbish, you probably can't be hypnotized.

Being hypnotized, no matter what you may have seen in the movies, does not mean you are under the absolute control of the hypnotist.  

You won't turn into a zombie or relinquish self-control such that you will commit something against your own personal morals.

Lost memories are not restored by hypnosis, and memory is not enhanced by any measurable degree.

Those in a hypnotic trance are however quite suggestible, and thoughts and memories can be modified and even created by hypnosis.  This is called confabulation.  Fantasies constructed during hypnosis or times of creativity and concentration can end up feeling like real memories.

Hypnosis, according to the Skeptic's Dictionary, requires four important ingredients:  Concentration, relaxation, suggestion, and expectation.  If a client really wants to quit smoking, and if he is highly motivated for hypnosis to work, he may find that the cravings for nicotine have disappeared.  

But for every success story there are probably dozens of not so successful treatment. And for every sincere clinical hypnotist there are probably dozens who are in the pseudo-science or medical-quackery field.  

Some interesting things may be explained by the confabulation experienced in hypnosis or suggestion or an active imagination.  Alien abduction, for instance, or remembering a past life may feel very real to the person who has vivid memories of these experiences.  

A suggestible client may come to believe that an 'energy treatment', one in which the client's 'energy field' is manipulated by creative hand waving or musical vibration, or special lighting, or touches to specific parts of the body, may have healed injury or disease. 

With hypnosis a seminar attendee may believe that he has been knocked out or rendered unconscious by a chi master with nothing but a few light shots to select pressure points, or better yet, with no physical contact at all.


Most researchers agree that hypnosis can be used as an effective part of treatment for anxiety or phobias or panic attacks.  Hypnosis may be used in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy and may be used to supplement other treatments for certain addictions such as food addiction.

Because world-class athletes use deep concentration, mental imagery, mental rehearsal, and visualization as part of their training regimens, a form of self-hypnosis, many sports psychologists have confidence that the mind and the body respond to this type of adjunct training. 

Creating "memories" of success, of performance with poise, confidence, and freedom from fear, may in fact be of tremendous benefit to anyone looking for an edge in competition.

Perhaps William James said it best, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind.”




Ron Goin's Blog - Sat, 2014-11-22 20:41
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."Godfather 3
I go my way
Back in the saddle again"
Gene Autry

I thought I was done.  Didn't think I had any more gas in the tank.  But some recent articles I read really fired up the old engine.  So here I am, tired, but saddled up, and ready for the next rodeo.

What got the old motor cranked up was some articles on martial arts healing.  Now, I know what you're gonna say..."Give it a rest, Goin.  Live and let live.  Who cares what people believe?  It's harmless.  Who gives a rat's ass?"

But, here's what bothers me.  These people don't just write about it.  They don't just post information as a public service.  They're not altruistic, with a passion to help others.  Okay, some of them are, but the vast majority charge money, real money, to give out their guarded information.  Secrets that have been handed down for generations.

And here's just a few examples of what I read:

     "This is a practical course where you learn a special version of The Eight Brocades, an ancient Chi cultivation technique that help heal the body, prevent illness and boost your immune system while activating special pressure points."

     "Through spiritual intentions and connecting one’s spirit to divinity, we learn to let go in the practices and achieve meditative awareness as well as deep profound healing."

     "Through intensive research and personal experimentation, I finally realized that anybody could become a healer so long as he or she is willing to be one."

     "As far as I'm concerned, you don't have to wait until you have mastered a sophisticated or esoteric healing technique before you start aleviating other peoples afflictions. Some people scoff at the idea but prayer is a powerful healing tool. Pray for those who are sick whether you knew them or not. I don't want to look at prayer from a mechanical point of view, but science is beginning to realize its potency. It is now known by neuropysiologists that art, prayer and healing all emanate from the same source in the body, they are associated with identical brainwave patterns, mind-body changes and are connected in feeling and meaning."  

     "Martial arts training involves a process of strengthening the Yi, Qi, and Li: Yi is the mind, will, and spirit; Qi is the vital energy; Li is the inner force.  Yi, Qi, and Li are like the Three Treasures: Jing is Li, Qi is itself, and Shen is Yi. Human beings are made of these three substances (Jing, Qi, and Shen), which in English may be called as Essence, Vital Energy, and Spirit respectively. These Three Treasures are viewed in Daoism as the highest form of medicine for human beings."

     "I just wanted to let you know that many of the flowers and trees in our yards have been blooming beautifuly. And even plants I have had for YEARS, two of them have flowered! They never have had any flowers. I didn’t know they could flower!! My family as well as myself, are totally blown away. It took me a few days to finally realise it was you. Your Distant Energy Healing is having an amazing effect on the plants!" 

     "I have been enjoying the feeling of euphoria after each session. I initially signed up for your month long healing because one of my dachshunds injured his back slipping on ice. He couldn’t walk without pain. He didn’t want to eat and was sleeping all day. after the first session I noticed a marked change. My dog was walking a little. By the second session he was able to walk while on a potty break and his eating picked up. He also wanted to roll on his back outside. By the third session he was so mellow during the session that he was limp. The next day he was downright giddy! He was running and barking. His eating is back to normal and he is getting underfoot again. Thank you for helping bring my dog back! I can’t wait to see what happens with 2 sessions in one week."

     "Because I’ve been practicing for years, my energy field is larger than normal. It radiates from my energy center (called dantian) and spreads out in all directions. And when you step inside my energy field, your own energy begins to vibrate like mine.  This phenomenon is called entrainment, which is when smaller frequencies synchronize with a larger one (like when smaller grandfather clocks fall into rhythm with the biggest clock in the room). Modern studies have shown that entrainment happens not only with brainwaves, but also the electromagnetic frequencies that emanate from the human heart." 

     "All you have to do for your body to keep it is a disease free state until you die naturally, is to give it the right food, that which we were meant to eat." 
Okay, I get it, some of it anyway.  Meditation and deep breathing can reduce stress and calm high blood pressure.  Massage is relaxing and can help alleviate pain and make sore muscles and joints feel loose.  A session with an 'energy worker' in a tranquil setting with New Age music and candles and aromatherapy can help minimize worry and anxiety and make you feel rejuvenated and ready to take on the madness of modern living.  And if long-term health problems stem from nervousness, too much worry, intense anxiety, high blood pressure, and relentless tension, then a session of Tai Chi, or some Yoga or Qigong can help you feel younger, refreshed and renewed.  

I'm not arguing any of that. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables, clean water, regular exercise, and a sensible diet can help you lose weight and feel more energetic.   I actually like Tai Chi and some of the Chinese Qigong exercises.  Senior citizens like me can benefit from this type of training.  

So, what's my issue?  That's NOT healing.  Not really.

You can show me a hundred articles about the alleged research of all of these esoteric practices, and they'll each confirm their ability to make people feel better and more relaxed.  You can find me lots of articles that talk about the placebo effect that you'll use to justify your so called mind-body practices.

But that's not healing.  It's just not.

Unless your mind power, and your natural energy manipulations, and your fancy hand-waving motions, and your deep breathing, and your incense, and your gongs and your drums, and your odd-sounding metaphysical terminology, and your once-lost esoteric practices passed down for centuries can accurately and consistently cure the mumps or measles, set a bone, git rid of strep throat, stop an ear ache, arrest infection, reverse pneumonia, help with an abscessed tooth or long-term liver damage, remove the pain from a sprained ankle, and stop the spread of infectious diseases, and a million other things that modern medicine can do, it's just not healing.

And quit acting like chi is some spiritual or supernatural life force. 

Biology researcher Steven Salzberg, at the University of Maryland at College Park, calls complementary and alternative medicine (often referred to as CAM) “merely cleverly marketed, dangerous quackery.”  He says that clinics who 'integrate' these practices with evidence-based modern medicine that is built upon scientific principles simply “throw together a little homeopathy, a little meditation, a little voodoo, and then they add in a little accepted medicine and call it integrative medicine, so there’s less criticism.”

I agree with Salzberg who says that there is really only “one type of medicine, and that’s medicine whose treatments have been proven to work.”  CAM has not been proven to work, says Salzberg, but proponents of the practice will never admit it because “they are making too much money on it.” 

The Skeptic's Dictionary says that "When examined under controlled conditions, the seemingly paranormal or supernatural feats of masters of chi turn out to be quite ordinary feats of magic, deception, or natural powers."

Sure, you're gonna want to share with me an anecdote about your own or a friend's or family member's miraculous healing from this or that chi-based CAM treatment.  

But isn't that a little like the sharpshooter who shoots the side of a barn and then afterwards draws a bull's eye around the bullet holes? 

You're gonna feel obliged to tell me about 'big-pharma' and corrupt medical practices, and the horrors of malpractice.  You're gonna want me to read about Western medicine's mind-boggling profit margins.  And you know what?  I can't argue with any of that.  It makes me sick what has become of our medical industry.    

But, c'mon.  Putting your faith in bogus practices.  Pretending that the fantasies of chi and shaman magic are real is simply embarrassing.

If even after all of this you remain convinced that there is a Star Wars type energy that permeates us all, and that it can be manipulated by masters with special training, then go for it.  Knock yourself out.  Flush your money down the toilet.

But please keep the martial arts out it.  Don't pretend that martial arts is about something more than personal protection.  There might be secondary, indirect benefits of the training.  But that's not the point.  Martial arts IS about fighting whether you want to believe it or not.  The new agey folks have tried to infiltrate the martial arts and turn them into something they're not.  

Please, PLEASE, do me a favor, I beg of you...IX-NAY on the I-CHAY.


Rory Miller's Blog - Sun, 2014-11-09 20:34
And, thus, the seminar in the Netherlands ends. Sweet. Lots of fun and good people and well received, but I am tired down to the bone. Early tomorrow a flight to Seattle and, if I can stay awake, a long drive home. Say 'Hi' to the kids, see the dogs. Check in on the goats and chickens.
Sleep in my own bed, for at least one night. Other things may be happening and I may have to hit the road immediately, but when all settles, other than a few friendly local things, I'm done until January.

Should be a good time for knee surgery. Have to make the appointment soon.

On the "to-do" list: 21 days left on NaNoWriMo to try to get the first draft of a book on teaching methods done. K probably has a list of chores a mile long. Get the house and land ready for winter. Update the website. Officially open the 2015 calendar (very slow this year, but largely because without opening the calendar 2015 is 50% booked. With 4x trips out of the country (most a month long) and another month-long East Coast). Three weeks' worth of accumulated e-mail. Evaluate 2014. Plan 2015. Do some long-term planning. Write some course curriculum.

It's busy, but it's all good. At the same time, it's unfocused. For many years, I lived with a plan and had a goals. When the goals were accomplished, I drifted. This life is a result of the drift. The power of focus is incredible and so is the power of adaptability in a drift. I have to make some evaluations and some choices. Or not. It's all an adventure.

More on the trip later. More on insights and discoveries. For now I have six hours to sleep, and then pack, go to the airport, and fly home. Good to be nearing the end of a journey.

Hands Up!

John Titchen's Blog - Tue, 2014-11-04 15:36

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.

Quick Note From Kortrijk

Rory Miller's Blog - Sat, 2014-11-01 08:03
In the last thirty days, all but four have been spent either teaching or on a plane. There will probably be a free day or two in Greece, but I won't know until I get there so mentally, I'm on day seven of a 15-day teaching marathon. Jet lagged too, but that's fading. I don't feel tired.

I am tired. Mind and body tired. But the heart isn't. This is fun. Teaching is fun. Playing is fun. Watching people shift understanding so that difficult things become simple is powerful. Watching another generation step up to the challenge of improving the teaching methods-- that feels a little like legacy stuff.

Looking forward to a long break at home. Have some writing to do. Have a lot of experience to process. Things have been moving so fast that I haven't been debriefing properly. Lisa of Subtle Warrior came up with a way to train something that has in the past has been too dangerous to train live. Have to experiment to be sure. Klaus in Fritzlar came up with a way for people with neck injuries to participate in a drill that's normally unsafe. It's very easy (at my age and history of concussions and sleep deprivation) to forget things if I don't get some play time.

And today kicks of NaNoWriMo. I won't be doing fiction, but the challenge is to get a draft of a book done in 30 days. In my copious spare time.

Time to hit the road. Teaching in a few minutes.

Advanced Class

Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2014-10-30 19:00
Just finished the second day of a three-day course for the training unit of a European city. After dinner, over coffee, the boss asked me, "Is there an advanced course we can book for next year?"

Yes. Sort of. No.

I get the temptation. There are people willing to pay me for more. More what? That's the question. And I'm a capitalist. Anyone who makes more than they spend is, by at least one definition, a capitalist, and I equate debt to slavery and like functioning in the black. So am I going to turn down money? If it means making shit up, absolutely.

Taught properly, any level of force is dead simple. Not because violence isn't complicated-- it surely is. But because simple works and complexity fails. Because all the things that work, if taught properly, are just natural. Because people already know almost everything about force, maybe on a genetic level. You rarely have to teach people to fight, you have to unteach all the crap that's been layered in their heads over the truth.

People want more. More moves, more techniques...more complexity. And there are people who will fill that desire for cash. I can't do it. In truth, an advanced class, if I were capable of creating it, would have less material, not more. Cleaner principles, more efficiently taught, less to learn, more to understand.

I'm pretty confident that everything that works can be taught to proficiency in forty hours. Years spent practicing would hone the skills, of course, but in the end, this isn't hard. We all know skeletons because we all have skeletons. Locks, takedowns, spine controls, structured striking, destroying base...all just fuckin' with skeletons. (That totally must be a T-shirt). Do you have to teach a dog pack dynamics or an ape how to live in a troop? Hell no. So with humans you just have to point out what they already know.

There are nuances. People who need to escape need very different body mechanics and mindset than those who need to cuff. Granted. So maybe three 40-hour courses, but not interchangeable. And there are always other things-- I want to create an instructor development class. Teaching people how to deal with force is a different skill than dealing with force.

But what actually works is very limited. If you understand it. If you "know" joint locks, there are thousands. If you understand joint locks there are eight. Just eight. It doesn't take long to get that down. Similar for takedowns. And strikes. If someone can teach you for ten years and there are new insights all the time, the instructor may be holding back. Or you may be stupid. Or the teaching is at the level of knowledge, not understanding. And knowledge tends to not come out in a fight.

So, when we discuss the advanced class next year, I'll shift the conversation to how to teach the simple stuff. The people who want complexity can find or make it on their own.

Expanding Lists

Rory Miller's Blog - Fri, 2014-10-24 20:58
Normally, my default is to simplify. To cut stuff out. By definition, efficiency means less wasted motion. The best athlete in any field moves less than the second best to accomplish the same thing. It's just as true mentally as it is physically. Thinking efficiently is a matter of dismissing the unimportant. When you truly understand a concept, you get more done, faster, and more accurately, with less work and time. So I'm reluctant to add to lists, especially good lists, but it came up during the MNVD training.

The Golden Move +1
My standard for any combative motion, for a long time, has been the Golden Move:
Every single motion should:

  1. Injure the threat
  2. Protect yourself
  3. Improve your position
  4. Worsen the threat's position
That's every single motion. Because it is easier to teach, many martial artists learned to strike (injure the threat) or unbalance (worsen the threat's position); learned to block or evade (protect yourself); and learned footwork (better your position, sometimes worsen the threat's)-- but almost all learned them as three separate things.
So you get the stereotypical martial artist who blocks a punch, steps to the correct angle and fires his counterpunch. Taking three moves. Which generally only works in demos where the partner (not a threat) stands still after the block. Offense, defense and motion were never supposed to be separated in the students head or, gods forbid, in the motion of a person who desperately needs efficiency. But it is easier to teach and easier to evaluate than integrated motion.
So, the Gold standard is one move with four effects (and good jujutsu gets more than that with multiple types of damage).
Blindfolded training adds one:     5.  Gathers informationTouch is faster than sight. It is almost impossible to make a decisive motion without a 'tell' in the shift in your body weight. So touch is faster, harder to fool and, if you get good at reading precursor motion, gives you a half-beat of precognition
The second list-- Jeff's RulesAnything you teach must:
  1. Have a tactical use. As he put it, there's no reason to learn to fast holstering because taking your weapon out of the fight first is not useful. Holstering without looking is useful, because it allows you to watch for threats.
  2. Must work under an adrenaline dump. If you can't do it scared, you can't do it when you need it.
  3. Must work moving. If you have to have a solid base to hit or shoot, for combative persons you can't hit or shoot. Fights are dynamic, they happen moving.
  4. Must work when you can't see. I may have added this one, but Jeff was big on indexing, doing everything by touch. If you have to look at your holster or fumble and look for your magazines, you're taking your eyes out of the fight.
The addition, and it doesn't fit quite right. Jeff's rules are about what to teach, and this is operational. But it fits the theme, in my mind:   5. Never do anything alone if you have a choice. Teams are a force multiplier like no other. Everything changes, for the better, with a team. How do you clear a building alone? Fast and quiet and with a fuckton of luck. Much easier and safer with a team. Weapon retention alone is a nasty struggle at ultimate stakes. With a team you hang on for the second or two it takes your partner to solve the problem.
The third list was recent: Escape, Control, Disable. It's a way to organize everything you teach, a way to decide what is relevant and what isn't. Strategies, mindset and appropriate techniques are very different for these three different fields.
I want to add a fourth, at Marc's suggestion. Fighting. Just for you to think about on your own. And it will be a big rabbit hole for some of you. Fighting in this context is any form of contest-- Monkey Dance or voluntary Bar Brawl; competition of any type at any level. When you practice what you practice, is it for escape? To cuff? To disable? Or is it just to prove you are better at the skills of the struggle.
Be honest. This is for posterity.

Kill the Sensei

Rory Miller's Blog - Tue, 2014-10-21 22:01
Generally, martial arts are taught very poorly. For the so-called "traditional" Japanese and Okinawan arts, they way they are taught is not traditional at all. For many systems, the first generation of US and European instructors learned just after WWII, from an occupied people who hated them and through shitty translators in large regimented groups. Somehow, this unnatural bastard idea of training got called "traditional" and since it set the standards for training, people assumed it was good. Get this, 'Standard' and 'Good" are not the same thing.

One of the details of this teaching method is correction. The instructor's job is to tell the student what the student did wrong. Even on the rare occasion when the sensei starts with, "Very good..." there is always a "...but" to follow.

We know micromanaging makes for unproductive and unhappy employees. How and why did it become the norm in a field that should be about survival? If you get corrected no matter what you do, it creates a condition called "learned helplessness" in which the best strategy is to do as little as possible. Why waste energy when you will just be corrected anyway? If you're going to be punished, why be tired, too?

We had a great crew at the MNVD seminar. A week of intense fun, learning. For me it was a chance to tighten up on teaching methods and compare and contrast with others.

Dealing with violence, there aren't a lot of good answers. The usual issue is choosing the option that sucks the least. At this venue, all the instructors were on the same page for this: "That's not what I would have done but you did it and it worked. If I were to tell you something that worked was wrong, that doesn't make it wrong, that just means I'm an asshole."

The student's got the sentiment, they got the words. They actually seemed to revel in and they really grew with the freedom. But even on the last day, there were a few questions about whether someone achieved success 'correctly.' And throughout the week, almost everyone had been so brainwashed that when they were not being criticized by the instructors, they were criticizing themselves. One used the Dracula's Cape technique to evade simultaneous attacks from three people. Get this-- at a signal you can't see, three people, all within arm's reach, launch at you simultaneously. And you knock one back and successfully get off the X for the other two, who collide. That's a good day right there.

And you could see the guy who pulled it off listening to an imaginary sensei on his shoulder, telling him it wasn't perfect. Beating himself up over a success.

We all know, or at least should know, that efficient teaching involves rewarding improvement. Punishing imperfection might keep skills from degrading, but it does nothing to show the way forward. Constant criticism is not good teaching. It rewards passivity and creates victims. Knock it off. In the end, it will brainwash the students so badly that they will create and maintain little imaginary sensei that sit on their shoulders and whisper the criticism even when you aren't there.

Don't create that voice in your head, don't create that voice in your student's heads, and if you have an imaginary critical sensei perched on your shoulder, kill it.

What If...

Rory Miller's Blog - Mon, 2014-10-20 18:05
Minnesota was a big experience with a lot of learning. I'll debrief it when the lessons have had some time to settle.

In the meantime, Jaime Clubb from the UK sent me a review copy of his book, "Mordred's Victory" I'm about halfway through. I knew Jaime from the now-defunct Cyberkwoon website. It was the place I went to ask questions about Chinese arts, and where I first met Mauricio, Theo, Ffab, Dave Jamieson, Steve Pascoe and a few other valuable friends.

 Jaime is someone I know on line only, and he's struck me as a good thinker, good writer. He's grown up with the RBSD movement in the UK.

There's a section in his book about teaching RBSD to kids. I don't teach kids, they don't need to know the things in my head and _if_ they can grasp the concept, they pretty much aren't kids anymore. But that's my perspective, not the truth. And one of his chapters talks about kids asking "why."

I haven't finished the chapter. I wanted to get this written before I finished Jaime's thoughts. Really good insight is often too influential, and when I'm around a good writer or a good instructor with good insights, like all humans I have a tendency to follow instead of think for myself. So a few paragraphs triggered a thought process and I want to get it down before I finish.

So, hat tip to Jaime for making me think.

If you have kids, you know some of the stages. The "no" stage and the "mine" stage. And the why stage. The why stage can be infuriating and there is always a sneaky suspicion that the kid is playing a game, pulling you to the end of your rope: Why is the sky blue? "Because the gasses in the atmosphere absorb more yellow and red light?" Why? "All substances reflect and absorb different electromagnetic wavelengths differently." If I'm very, very lucky here, the kid will switch from the "why" to the "what question: "Whats electromagnetic?"

The kid asking why is NOT trying to punk you out, not trying to dominate you, not trying to humiliate you with how shallow your knowledge really is. The kid doesn't know and desperately wants to know. More than that, kids want to understand, and you can't understand jack shit with just surface knowledge. So they push deeper, and "why" is a question that pushes deeper. If you can honestly track why to the source, you will find the principles that underly everything you do. The principles of the physical art that you study or the principles of your own ethics. All same/same. You just have to keep asking the question and answer honestly.

It's not the "what if" game. Every instructor knows the "what if monkey." For every situation or technique, there's the, "What if he counter attacks with the right hand?" "What if he has a knife concealed in his boot?" "What if he has a friend?" "What if the guy attacking you is a midget with a BJJ background?" "What if you're suddenly attacked by 37 ninjas?"

Because it follows a similar pattern (the same question repeated over and over, always based on the last answer) and because both patterns can be annoying and because both patterns inevitably lead beyond your ability to answer* it is possible to see these as related. But they aren't They absolutely aren't.

The questioning of "why" uses the wisdom of a child to get deeper, to understand things, to get the principles out in the open. The questioning of "what if" makes things more technical, more about the surface. If you understand a deep why, you can use that understanding in a thousand different situations. If you get a great answer on a what if question, you have one thing that you can only use in one ridiculously specific situation.

* Inevitably. All "what if" questions eventually grow into situations that can't be handled. And all why questions eventually dig down to physics so esoteric that no one knows the real answer. Our knowledge is limited, own that.

Creating and delivering self defence courses for women

John Titchen's Blog - Thu, 2014-10-16 14:49

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Use of force and the law.
  2. Accurate crime picture (including risk) based on government, police and ED data (where available).
  3. Natural human reactions to actual or potential abuse, aggression and violence, both in anticipation of, during and after events.
  4. Rationales and motivation for action or inaction in self defence both before, during and after events.
  5. Avoidance strategies.
  6. Deterrence strategies.
  7. Awareness – common tactics and patterns in abuse, sexual crime and violent crime.
  8. 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.

  1. Biomechanics and weak points of the human body.
  2. Gross motor strikes that utilise otherwise natural and everyday movements.
  3. Impact training.
  4. Paired or group work based on HAOV (habitual acts of violence) to build confidence.
  5. Optional participation in scenario training.

Conscious incompetence

John Titchen's Blog - Wed, 2014-10-15 08:28

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.

Next Project

Rory Miller's Blog - Sat, 2014-10-11 16:25
The writing project for the end of the year will begin in November. It won't be a novel, but I'll do it as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge, to complete a full book in one month, November. I'm excited about it but just as worried. The subject is pretty big, and I'm not aware of anyone who has hit it at this level.

The idea is how to train for emergencies. What teaching methods have the best chance when the skills must be used out of the box, under stress and with no time to think? Most of our current idea about teaching and learning are classroom based. Gordon Graham's High Risk-Low Frequency category is rarely addressed. When it is addressed, too often it is a magical handwave past the messy parts and an opportunity for administrators to check a box.

Military and police do it, sometimes well, often not. But professional units have a huge advantage and it may be the single most important component to making the skills functional. They do everything in their power to make sure that no one goes through their first several real encounters alone. You will have an FTO or be assigned to a squad. You try to make sure never to make a new unit out of rookies and if you must (say, because there is a new technology and therefor new and untested techniques) you put the most grizzled old veteran you can find in charge. If you want the unit to succeed.

This opportunity doesn't exist for civilians. You won't get the chance to go through your first home invasion with a partner who has been through dozens. And that modeling of someone else who knows how to deal with it may be the critical thing. So how can you train without it?

Have to cover teaching methods, adult learning, curriculum development. But I also want to get into the mysteries. Why do some very advanced techniques come out of nowhere with untrained people sometimes? There are a very few people who with minimal training and no experience did ridiculously complex things exactly as trained... but no one else with the same training did it. And statistically it appears to be so rare it might as well never happen. But it does. And some "perishable" skills seem to lock in under circumstances and pop up when needed decades after the last event or training. For all people? For some? Lots of mysteries.

Likely a section on acquiring the skills that will make you valuable to other people. Everybody can teach, but not everybody can teach something useful.

And even sections on the paperwork necessary if you want to teach pros.

Big project. Eager to get started and worried it won't be enough. I know this feeling.


Rory Miller's Blog - Thu, 2014-10-09 00:22

I have lesson plans. I have lesson plans coming out of my ears. I've written lesson plans for SAR, the Sheriff's Office, the National Guard, the Iraqi Corrections Service... but, sometimes, damn.
So I'm in Germany. Some evening classes for civilians, cool. The regular Ambushes and Thugs/Intro to Violence seminar over the weekend. Cool. Conflict Communications on the campus of the Mainz riot police, cool. Conflict Communications is always cool since it doesn't matter what the problem is. Bad guys? Clueless bosses? Family? ConCom explains it pretty well. Tuesday was ConCom.
Wednesday was scheduled for physical control. I had been led to believe that this group needed some skills in arrest and control tactics. Perfectly cool, I'm relatively good at that. But no. Sigh. 37 people. Maybe fifteen agencies. None of them had the same policies or tools.
My normal arrest and control lesson plan is pretty practical. In eight hours we cover:
  • 1-step
  • Joint locks
  • Take downs
  • Leverage and leverage points
  • Stance integrity
  • Ground movement
  • Pain (ethics and application)
  • Lock transition to cuffing
  • Momentum
  • Using the Environment
All useful, all intuitive...Tuesday I found out some of the students weren't allowed to arrest, so they didn't need cuffing. Most carried weapons ("waffen") --pepperspray and batons-- but not firearms. I had 10-15 agencies with different policies and equipment.
Turns out I'm relatively good at this. Yeah, international trainer and all that jazz, blah, blah, blah... but I have never felt like I'm a good teacher, which probably has a lot to do with the tendency to improve...
Fighting organizes.  It can organize in several ways. So I made the most appropriate organization for this group and let them vote on what they needed. We can talk about why later. The thing that I got excited about is that, as much as I train and think about conflict, I'd never organized it this way. Three levels: Escape, Control, Survival.
Completely different in every aspect. Only the Principles (things that made everything else work) crossed all three categories. And some became awesome insight. Power generation (one of my building blocks) is entirely different in "escape mode" and "damage mode" and doesn't apply (as I define it) at all in control mode. So I put the building blocks under the categories in which they were important. And let the students vote.
Okay, that's good teaching, let the adult students take control, blah blah blah...But I don't think i have ever once looked at my personal lost  of critical skills (the BUILDING BLOCKS) and tied the to the basic goals--escape, control, disable. And it was easy. And powerful. And empowered the students.
Good day.


Rory Miller's Blog - Fri, 2014-10-03 11:08
Enjoying Germany. Great people and food (had the Deutsch version of haggis last night, very good). Jet lag normally doesn't bother me but this trip is different. May have to arrange recovery time next year between seminars...

Something Lawrence said a few weeks ago has been rolling around in my head. He said my writing, speaking and teaching were "pithy." Not a lot of words, many things implied or assumed instead of said. At the same time, I cover a fair amount of information. "Facing Violence" was essentially two hundred pages expanding on two paragraphs in "Meditations on Violence."

Implied and assumed. Assumed is hard, and potentially a serious problem. I'll write about experience thresholds later, but basically, people at different levels of experience think in different ways. Beginning drivers don't think like experienced drivers and experienced drivers don't think quite like security drivers and no one things about it like rally drivers.

The first time I taught a seminar, and one of the reasons I started writing, was because many of the students didn't have a vocabulary for things that were obvious to me. That there was a difference between a fight and an assault, for instance, or that self-defense was an affirmative defense to a crime. Violence is deep stuff and big, bigger than I will ever fully understand... but the parts I am familiar with have aspects that seem obvious, but may not be to others.

So you have to watch for your own assumptions all the time. When you teach, be alert for people who are not doing quite what you said, or are hesitating to begin at all. You may have confused them. And set up test questions (something else I need to write about) which are ways to find out what a thing truly is. You can use a test question to find if a situation is predatory or miscommunication; a proper boundary setting acts as a test question-- no normal person goes beyond the second step, opportunistic predators will push the third. For teaching, one of my favorite test questions is to have the student teach me. "Chris, you've been here four times. Guess what? You're teaching power generation."

Implied. I don't mind leaving lots implied. I teach adults and I respect them as adults. There's no need to spoon feed. Getting into specifics of dealing with EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons) makes sense because so few have done it and almost everything they know about dealing with social conflict will fail. But they all have experience with social conflict, if not violence, and one of the keys in teaching adults is to tie it to their experience. I don't have to explain in details the things they experience every day, and it's a waste of time and, IMO, a show of disrespect to do so.

And there's a benefit. People aren't stupid. Okay, people in groups and people trumpeting their affiliations and a lot of drivers are stupid... but individuals are pretty smart. And, when allowed to be, they are innovative and insightful. And humans like to succeed and hate to fail. Which means, if you give them the tools and leave them alone, they'll do okay. And sometimes they surprise you and come up with something better than you ever thought of. Those are the best days for a teacher.

'Cause I'm wrong about everything. In an infinite universe, there are no perfect answers. Which means there are no right answers. Better and worse, but no "right." So everyone is wrong all the time. Including me. And every time you give a student freedom, there is a chance that she will come up with something that shifts the entire paradigm an order of magnitude closer to that unreachable perfection. That makes the student better. It makes you better, if you have the humility to learn from your own student. It makes the world better.

Two of my biggest epiphanies in martial arts came from mistakes. Misunderstanding instructions in one case and simply screwing up the footwork in another... and the product of those mistakes was ten times better (not exaggerating at all) than the 'right' way.

So if a student does misunderstand... they are adaptable, smart, tough, survivors. They will have a tendency to make the misunderstanding work. In doing so, they may change everything I think I know for the better. I'm okay with that.
Seven days in Minnesota is almost upon us:


Rory Miller's Blog - Tue, 2014-09-23 15:55
Just finished reading a book, purporting to be about science, where the author was ridiculously ignorant about what science even means. Maybe not ignorant as much as self-serving. He had his worldview, which obviously all right thinking people must share, and a firm belief that anyone who didn't share it had a broken part in the brain. From that stance, science was a search through technology to confirm the 'truths' he already held.

Underneath it all, there is a key thought that might be immensely powerful, but I don't think the author even noticed.

That said, I'm pretty confident that anyone with a modicum of training in actual science would have been appalled by the book as I was... but it was recommended to me by a highly intelligent young man. So why aren't people given a solid education in critical thinking and the scientific method?

Second piece of the thought, stemming from a conversation with Marc MacYoung and touching on the worlds of politics and self defense, on Rotherham and gun control and a bureaucracy completely out of control.

As strange as it seems, I am coming to believe that there are some people, maybe many, who believe that rules actually exist. That when you write a law it actually changes the world. That when you forbid bullying in school, bullying will magically decrease. And magically is the operative word because there is nothing inherent in paper and ink to change people's behavior. Unenforced, rules only have power over the people who consciously agree to abide by them or those so brainwashed or superstitious that they, too believe the rules are real. Someone who believes that a "Keep Off The Grass" sign actually forces people not to walk on grass.

As such, these laws and rules and policies are simply complex spells. And like most magic, they only work on the people who believe (consciously or not) in magic. And making more and more rules has the horrific affect of controlling the people who would voluntarily control their own behavior while doing absolutely nothing for the few who won't. And, as in Rotherham, the priests of this religion get rewarded for doing the rituals correctly even if the bad guys actually gained power. Because energy going into casting spells isn't going into solving problems, no matter what the superstitious want to believe.

If you saw a lithic-technology native who had never contacted Western civilization before and he told you that he wore a cord woven of a red leaf to keep his mother healthy, you'd probably have some pretty condescending thoughts. You'd recognize the superstition and ignorance of sympathetic magic. So, tell me, do you ever wear a pink ribbon for breast cancer?

Like all sympathetic magic, the awareness campaigns give the feeling of doing something without actually putting in the effort and expense. Contribute money to research? Volunteer for hospice? Those are acts and they do something. Wear a ribbon or put a sign on your lawn? That's voodoo. Don't get me wrong, some people are making a hell of a living from running charity campaigns. So your superstition is serving somebody.

Visualizing world peace doesn't work. And it's obviously a stupid platitude, obviously ridiculous, obviously dependent on magic. But a bumper sticker that says "Support Our Troops"gives the actual troops zero support. And if you have that bumper sticker but talked your own kids out of signing up, I wish the hypocrisy would make your head explode.

Struck again with how robust the patterns are. Our ancestors in loincloths making sacrifices and cowering in their huts from the thunder-- that's still us. And we're still using the same tools, whether we realize it or not.


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