Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.
Whoever came up with that particular saying might be shocked by how false it seems in the modern world. I’m sure that every coach / instructor / teacher or businessman/woman reading that phrase is only too aware of how damaging words can be. In theory reputations can be salvaged through litigation, but a word once uttered flies away beyond recall.
My opening phrase is not about litigation though. It is the adage that verbal abuse cannot harm compared with physical abuse. In this day and age of psychological study we can see the fiction in this as well as the truth, and those that work in any form of education or group workplace are keenly aware that verbal bulling can be as great a problem as physical bulling. What may remain a closed book to a number of martial arts instructors is that suffering verbal abuse can lead to an increased risk of physical harm.
I’m not talking about psychological trauma and self-harming here, but the damage that verbal abuse can do to our immediate physical state in a self defence situation. I train my students to make appropriate physical responses to physical attacks. I also teach my students pre-emptive striking techniques based upon their assessment of the probability of violence – in other words if they are unable to make a retreat and sense that their attempts to verbally de-escalate the situation are failing, and it is their honest belief that they are about to be hit, I train them to hit first. In this approach I may fall into a smaller group of instructors. In addition to this (where my surroundings permit) I have my students verbally abuse one another in role play simulations prior to the physical drill – and here I imagine I fall into a tiny minority.
So, why add in a verbal element to physical practise? This comes down to your training rationale. If you are training in a martial art for the love of the competitive element involved, then you would naturally spend the majority of your time learning to fight or perform within the rule set of your chosen competition – drilling and sparring in the attacks, defences and tactics used there. If however you are training in your chosen art for the purpose of self defence you should want to spend your time drilling and defending against habitual acts of violence (haov). That is a logical step to take. But a large proportion of violent incidents do not start with a push, a haymaker, a grab or a headbutt – they start with a verbal attack in the form of an argument, a misinterpreted glance or jostle, a torrent of unwarranted abuse, a demand or a con tactic.
As an example I used to do a drill where a person was pinned against a wall by their throat and threatened by and attacker’s fist. Students quickly became able to break out of this position using a combination of high and low movements. When the exercise speed was increased, and their attacker protected with body armour so as to take full physical contact, they continued to be able to do it. Then I had the attacker put their face only a hand’s length away from their ‘victim’ and shout “What the f*** are you f****** looking at, you f****** piece of s***. I’m going to f****** smash your f****** face in!” Suddenly the drill fell apart, the victim froze and the technique was executed after a delay and with less conviction – if at all. The impact of the verbal abuse reduced the ability of the target to access the gross motor skills they had previously been employing and left them vulnerable to physical attack.
Some people might note the over-use of the F word in the above phrase and I stress that the students chose their own language. We have become used to this and other words and probably use them ourselves under our breath or out loud, but rarely up close. We see and hear aggressive language in television drama and it doesn’t really affect us. Up close it is a different story. I suspect that the F word in particular is powerful up close because of the contortion it gives to the face, exposing the teeth in an unaccustomed way and shortening the nose. The combination of the volume of the shout and the primal (almost gorilla like) visual display gives it power and its aggressive use can sap confidence, awareness and conviction.
Gradually my students became accustomed to the verbal posturing. After they experienced it about five times on the trot they were back to about 50% effectiveness, a percentage that gradually increased with more exposure. But imagine what might happen to you if you never trained this scenario. What if you only did your techniques in a sterile environment? How certain are you that you would cope, that you wouldn’t ‘shut down’, that you would remain calm? The impact of words on our mental state should not be under-estimated.
What became clear from the performance of these drills was that although the majority of students had a low level of adrenaline running through their system during class, and had experienced high rushes of adrenaline in other activities, they were simply not prepared for the impact such intense verbal pressure had on their physiology. In this and in other drills many were caught out by the fact that their unconscious reaction was to step backwards and away from the noise, others by the difficulty they had trying to speak whilst their digestive system had temporarily shut down. As with normal physical drills, repeated exposure brought acceptance, confidence, and an increased ability to maintain dialogue – a key factor in trying to avoid conflict.
In the years since I have run many heavy contact scenario training days for my own students and for visiting trainees from a broad range of other systems. In these events it is not simply the contact and the use of haov that ‘de-skills’ the majority of first timers below their normal performance, it is the novelty of experiencing a personal verbal assault and the difficulty of making a decision under such pressure as to whether to pre-empt or to continue to attempt to talk. With each exposure trainees become desensitized and improve, and crucially it is not simply a matter of their physical skills improving but their physiological state improving. If the training is done well then they will experience some adrenaline, but not as much as before, which means that their heart rate is lower, they can access a slightly greater range of motor skills, and they are able to make more rational choices.
The Kiai used in paired kumite incorporates an aspect of this verbal assault, but I would stress that its effect at close range is insignificant compared to personal insults and threats. Some instructors might feel that they can’t do such things, even if they would like, because of the youth element of their classes. You will find that it is possible to work these scenarios without using ‘swear words’ per se; “Get back to where you came from!” is an unpleasant thing to say with the proper inflection, as is the challenge “what are you looking at?” I would actually advocate the use of such drills with classes involving children along a carefully designed word and intensity continuum, simply because although we might try and pretend it doesn’t exist, verbal bullying of this kind does occur and can frighten young people. Preparing young people for verbal aggression can help prevent problems and fights (at that age). There are a number of tricks that can be employed to encourage normally reticent people to shout at their friends and to depersonalise both aggressor and target. Whenever you are doing this form of psychological training it is important to be aware that if you are not careful in your methodology you may harm vulnerable adults and children, and while we want our training to be realistic and effective, it should not cause damage.
Whether you incorporate drills of this kind alongside your physical practise boils down to a simple question – do you want to teach something that is useful for self defence? Our physical skills are of no use for self defence if they cannot be accessed under pressure, and that pressure can come as much from having to process the visual and aural stimuli of a sustained verbal assault as any physical assault.
Train safely and have fun.
Today was a good day. But very different. Nick called late last night from Chicago. It was a scotch-and-cigar kind of talk that would have gone better in person.
K has an incredibly rare string of days off. I'm committed to the tune-up tomorrow, and I'll miss her, but I had one day with the precious lady. A day of gathering materials and loading trucks and moving hay and digging holes and setting fence posts. Sunday will involve a lot of carpentry.
Kasey has an idea for a kick-ass class (would it be possible to do active shooter training for cops and citizens at the same time?) The logistics and the complexity of running such a scenario would be staggering... but with Kasey and Cabot, staggering is a minimum level of challenge.
Nick and James sent e-mails that will require some thought, as they are wont to do.
Greg sent the first draft of his foreword for the ConCom manual.
Got the tentative schedule for Spring in the UK.
Now it is time on the deck, in the mist, with a good book and a good Islay. Steaks to come.
I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.
It’s a common dictum that I don’t like.
I don’t like it because it indicates a casual, often sloppy approach to training and rules of engagement, one that is bad for the trainee and bad for others in the environment they enter. To me the phrase implies an acceptance of uncertainty and a faith in the correct judgment of others, and I don’t like that at all. I don’t want the people I train questioning their decisions or ability to act or wondering whether they are going to go to court – I want them to be so clear on their self protection rules of engagement that there isn’t any doubt clouding their minds or confusing their actions.
That may sound rather trite. After all, real violent incidents are not as clear cut as television or the movies would have us believe. In many countries the law allows preemptive striking – but when does a preempt become an assault? The man or woman who preempts is rarely calm and collected but has a system flooded with adrenaline and (hopefully) a brain and a mouth (not to mention the all important body language) that is trying a number of de-escalation techniques to avoid violence. You can prematurely decide that these de-escalation attempts have failed and that a physical response is necessary, particularly if you are unused to violent situations, and end up appearing to be the aggressor. At that point in time two things will help you:
- selecting an appropriate physical response to the perceived threat, in other words one that is proportionate,
- knowing how to describe why you acted in appropriate language should you subsequently be interviewed by any law enforcement personnel.
If you design and train your responses to fit the legal rules of engagement for self defence in your country, and you drill these, you should never be in a position where you feel you are making a choice between life or death for you or a court case.
I’ve deliberately avoided going into the details of specific laws here as I know that this blog is read by people in America, Europe, the Far East and Australia. It’s up to you now. Train safely and train appropriately, so that if you do have to use your physical skills you’re not carried by six and you’re not judged by twelve.
There are three general kinds of people that will require force. The three types don't fight for the same reason or use the same tactics, and your skills may not work the same.
Honestly, most of the time, if you are in enforcement or corrections or especially bouncing, you are going to run into idiots. The drunk college kid who squares off and lets you know he's coming a mile away. The entitled whiner who thinks he's too special to go to jail just for driving drunk. The martial artist who's never been in a real fight but doesn't believe there's a difference.
It may just be the old man in me coming out, but it seems like idiots are on the rise. Fewer people have been exposed to violence; more people have never had their behavior controlled. That combination creates people who are both hot-house flowers incapable of taking care of themselves, but certain that anything they want is a right and anyone who disagrees is an oppressor. It seems I see more and more of this pathetically weak but shrill and bullying dynamic. For whatever my opinion is worth.
Idiots are easy. You see them coming and almost anything done decisively works. The drunk steroid freak squares off and let's you know he has a blackbelt in...
And you smile and toe kick him in the shin with your boot before he finishes the sentence and then drop him. Or beat past his arms and twist his spine. Or, probably the classic:
Again, almost anything done decisively works.
Assholes are the second most common. They like to fight and they have varying levels of, for want of a better word, professionalism. The experienced know when they are outnumbered and tend to surrender. The experienced assholes know when they are losing and give up. Generally, even the experienced assholes don't like going hands on on a cop or other professional-- unless they sense any weakness.
They have varying levels of 'professionalism' in how far they are willing to go and incredibly varied skill levels. An asshole who gets the drop on you is still dangerous even if he barely knows how to hit. To a large degree, fighting assholes is somewhat like fighting martial athletes. A wide range of skill and commitment but generally, they like to fight and it will be a fight. The fatal mistake is treating an asshole like an idiot. When it comes time to bat his guard aside, the guard won't be weak and it will likely trigger a counter-attack. An idiot's lack of confidence and/or lack of understanding of how the world really works are the reasons it is so easy to bat aside even their trained fists. You won't get this with assholes.
And saying they like to fight isn't quite right either. They don't like the give and take of fighting, only the give. They enjoy causing pain and beating people down but tend not to be so big on receiving pain. So most won't engage if you act like a wary professional. They won't see the safe opening.
The pros are a different kettle of fish. For the most part, you won't get a lot of these. Highest concentration is in prison, jails, or on elite teams. Rarity makes them somewhat low risk. Their own professionalism also makes them low risk. It is very, very rare for this category to fight for ego. If you have the drop on them and maintain control they will, generally, not resist. If your handcuffing technique has a hole built into it or your approach is sloppy, they will use the Golden Rule of Combat: "Your most powerful weapon applied to your opponent's most valuable point at his time of maximum imbalance." They will hit you hard, decisively, where and how it will do the most damage, and they will strike when you are least ready.
Assume most pros are skilled. It's not always true and it's not a necessary factor, but growing into a pro mindset usually takes time and that kind of time doing those kinds of things develops skills. That said, it doesn't take a lot of skilled technique when you follow the Golden Rule. No one has to be trained to hit a man in the head with a brick from behind.
And the skill may be something unusual. In the debrief on Minnesota I mentioned that there were some high-percentage techniques that simply didn't work on Kasey, Dillon or me. Our grappling backgrounds made us instinctively structure in ways that idiots don't think to and assholes are too arrogant for, even if they had trained the skills.
Taxonomy alert: Taxonomies are naming classifications. This is a separate taxonomy from the social/asocial that I usually use. An asocial threat can fight as either an asshole or a pro (as an idiot, too, but Darwin usually takes care of that combination early). The asocial/social/maslow/triune is a better introduction for most everybody, but people who use force professionally might get something from this classification.
I sometimes say that a perfect training day is indicated by blood, sweat and tears.
I don't get the concept of not sweating in a physical art. Doesn't matter what the art is-- martial arts or climbing or dance or horseback riding or tiddleywinks. If you don't sweat, what exactly are you doing? Feel free to disagree, but I think an absence of sweat means it's not a physical skill.
Blood. This is a game of edges. Physical edges, mental edges, emotional edges. Physically, you're a skinbag of meat and (mostly nasty) liquids. Life is a contact sport, and if you never get your skinbag moving fast and coming in contact with the things of the world, whatever your doing doesn't look or feel like living to me. And that goes ten times for anything you want to call a martial art or martial sport or combatives or self-defense. If you play so deep in your comfort zone that you never leak, you might be doing origami or tiddleywinks or low-level interpretive dance. Don't destroy yourself-- you can make your muscles stronger than your joints or create forces in a second that will ruin your physicality or your partner's forever-- but training only happens on the edge.
Lastly tears. Fighting, especially survival fighting, is a mental and emotional skill far more than a physical skill. You can live your martial fantasies and pretend it doesn't apply to you, but everyone has emotional edges. Play tough guy all you want, but until you see the baby's head roll away, or watch someone trying to hold their stomach inside their skin, or feel the barrel of a shotgun in your mouth, you can't know how you will react. Until you have been shattered and get back up, you cannot know if that is inside you, no matter what you tell yourself.
The last two weekends involved some intense stuff. Part of scenario training is judiciously pushing buttons, creating a scenario that feels real and pushes someone right to the emotional edge. Good scenario planning has a lot in common with sadism. Except it is set up to power through. To find or create the strength. So, yeah, I'm a bastard. Actually used a student's real daughter as a prop...and got to see a slender, untrained, retired lady throw a fifth degree blackbelt across the room and pull a soccer kick to his head just in time. And her tears were pouring down. And that didn't stop her. Not. One. Damn. Bit.
Two perfect training weekends. Blood sweat and tears. Some of the students did some very deep work on themselves. Everyone had fun. I think every e-mail so far has said something like, "I'm still processing..." Very, very good.
Sometimes I wonder if the kata I’m seeing and practicing are the same as the near identical ones I see my fellow karateka doing and describing. To sum up my feelings I’d like to play a little game.
When I first began karate I learned a number of different forms. I didn’t learn them all at once mind you, I had to spend a long time working on a single form before I was allowed to move on to another. The training was repetitive, sometimes boring, often hard, but it helped me build up strength.
I got the opportunity to train with more than one teacher, for which I’m grateful. They all had their own unique take on things, and would often do the same kata differently. To be honest I don’t think I always understood the differences initially, that came later, after a lot of training.
Eventually I reached the stage where I wanted to codify my knowledge in the form of a kata of my own that I could teach my students. Obviously I could teach them the kata I knew, and in the past I had taught those with my own unique twists, but they were at their heart another person’s kata. I wanted to create something that embodied my favourite techniques and summarized the principles I felt were important.
My kata not only needed to reflect my favourite techniques and core principles, it needed to reflect my heritage as a martial artist. Obviously the vast majority of the movements I chose would be found in Kata I knew and had taught in my own way: Kosakun, Passai, Naihanchi, and some of the Tomari Te forms. I would structure those combinations my own way, to teach my lessons.
One extremely important thing I’d learned that I wanted to encapsulate in my kata was simplicity in technique. The more complex something is the more likely it is to fail under pressure. My favourite techniques have always been the ones that are so simple that beginners could do them; in fact I wanted beginners to do them. It’s very easy to put together something complicated; it’s far harder to strip things down to their most basic levels. Beginners are the most important people in karate: they are the future. Added to that if a beginner can’t do something easily then I doubt that experienced practitioners will be able to do it under pressure. I don’t want to create something that only experienced karateka can do, I want to create something that’s effective as a form of exercise and effective as a means of self defence. That is the legacy I want to leave. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that simplicity is the key to success.
If I could do that it would give me great peace of mind. To think of large numbers of students made safe and sound through training in my kata.
Who am I?
The legacy he left us is not only the wealth of systems that have evolved from his teachings, but also the Pinan kata. Just because a kata can be taught to beginners does not mean it is not an advanced kata.
I had some space cleared in my schedule today for some training at home. Not a particularly unusual thing as I train every day, but rather than grabbing a few minutes here and a few minutes there, today I had one of those nice long stretches of unbroken time. With that luxury I knew I could work on my strength with some weights and work on my balance with some kicking exercises, but what I really wanted to do was pick a few forms to use as visualization exercises for the delivery of a number of my techniques. In case anyone wonders why I haven’t mentioned that important training facet impact work, I’m currently between kick bags and I know I’ll be hitting the pads in class tonight.
While thinking about which particular forms I wanted to train I remembered something interesting regarding two books in my little martial arts library. In one of my editions of Funakoshi’s Karate Do Kyohan he gives an approximate start to finish time as if the Kata was to be completed in one go as an unbroken exercise. In another book I own, written in the 1990s, the performance times of three highly ranked UK Karateka were given for the same kata. Although they varied slightly their times were generally half to two thirds of Funakoshi’s times.
Funakoshi’s times were not those of an old man. They were the amount of time that it took, in his opinion, to go through the kata. So why is it common to see modern Karateka go through the forms at a greater speed?
Your focus determines your reality.
Unless you are deliberately moving slowly, when you practice a strike, you do it fast. When you practice blocking another person’s attack, you also have to move fast. But wrestling for control against resistance is something that slows us down, and manipulating limbs in grappling even at full speed is a slower form of movement than striking, as is throwing another person.
The modern fast pace of kata is a result of a different vision of the same movements. The shorter times are a result of more movements being executed as fast as possible, as if each was striking or deflecting a strike. The longer times given by Funakoshi are a reflection of a different emphasis.
Those of you that have watched some of my bunkai on my youtube channel, or read my first book, will know that I see most Uke receiving techniques in kata as strikes or limb manipulations, and that often I see Tsuki techniques as thrusts used to control, not necessarily punches. A number of my kata steps are viewed as leg attacks, as are some of my turns. My kata are close quarter struggles that utlise the movements effectively to escape from habitual acts of violence (haov).
So how fast will I be doing my kata?
How fast I go through a kata will depend upon what I am visualizing. Good Karate allows for multiple applications of the same sequence and the majority of kata are made up of good karate.
There is no set speed for a kata. I’m not going to rush my practice. I’ll go through at a pace where I feel I am accurately practicing my application. That is the luxury of practicing karate at home as well as in the dojo.
You road I enter upon and look around! I believe you are not all that is here;
I believe that much unseen is also here.
Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"
It's not so much that I converted to Christianity. Heck, I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, pretty much the actual buckle of the Bible Belt, a rare place where there are more churches than Starbucks. I went to Sunday School when I was little, and I even got a perfect attendance certificate!So I knew about Christianity, and I'm sure I heard the Gospel being preached many times before.
But here I was, standing on a precipice of what I felt were dramatic, unparalleled events, and I was nervous and filled with dread and apprehension about what looked like terrible, deteriorating world conditions, the growing violence and hatred. And so, I decided to take the leap of faith.
That may sound dramatic, but it was less of an Acapulco cliff dive, and more of a short baby step. My acceptance of Christianity was less like a conversion and more like osmosis, you know, "the spontaneous net movement of solvent molecules through a partially permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, in the direction that tends to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides," (Wikipedia).
But the religious experience of salvation is generally referred to as a conversion, so I'll go ahead and use that term.
Here are some of the things that did not occur when I converted to Christianity:
- Feelings: I felt no different than before. Not lighter, not free-er, not more joyous or less full of fear and apprehension. Gospel singer Andre Crouch used to sing "I'm Satisfied." Perhaps that's what I felt...I felt satisfied with myself for taking this step.
- Bells and whistles: No heavenly choir, no fanfare, no parade, no light, no sound, and most certainly no dancing girls.
- Persecution: No inquisition. Not that I expected it, because, as you know, NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! Sorry, I got sidetracked. It turns out that I got in on the ground floor of heavenly things so to speak. This was just as the so-called 'Jesus Movement' really started to take off across America, so oddly enough I actually became more popular than ever before. This Christian experience wasn't so bad.
Because I had some (very limited) musical abilities I also sang in the choir, then a youth ensemble, and I even performed in a group with some other talented musicians whose dads were both stars in country music. Christian contemporary music was still in its infancy, so we made do with some standard gospel hymns but changed the tempo or harmony. We started performing at churches around the Nashville area and even at some non-religious events.
I traveled with Pastor Jim Henry a few times when he was the guest preacher at rural churches around Tennessee. Jim, who would eventually become the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest religious organizations in the country, would drive and talk and tell me stories.
He would tell me stories about his own conversion and some of the funny things he'd encountered as a preacher. He also talked to me about some of the big things he wanted to accomplish. But he also listened as I told him about my own ambitions, which at that time were centered around my three major interests, music, art, and martial arts.
Jim convinced me that he saw something in me, a quality, a germ of charisma. He told me that I had something to offer, and he encouraged me to take a leadership role where I could help my peers steer away from drugs, and sex, and sin.
So, it wasn't long before I was speaking at youth gatherings at churches. I would tell these church kids about my conversion, and they would listen...really listen. They would begin bringing their friends to church to hear me too. Before long, I started believing that I just might have a special calling.
In Part 6--The Calling
More wag, less bark.
I really admire martial artists who show up to train and don't waste time with a lot of talking.
An old martial arts friend of mine, Bill Barton, now trains in Thailand at a Muay Thai school. He's close to 50 but is in dynamite condition. He trains, and he trains hard.
My nephews, Seth and Sean, both train in BJJ and MMA. They're ripped! Look like action stars. They don't do a lot of talking...they just train.
Go watch a college wrestling workout or visit a boxing gym. You'll see guys who show up, and shut up, and work hard.
But they're a rare commodity.
Most people in martial arts will do almost anything to avoid actually sweating, as if they're allergic to it, as if they have a note from their doctor. Instead of training they'll disagree and discuss and debate all kinds of things.
- Which style(s) you study.
- Who your teacher is.
- Who your teacher trained with.
- Who invented the style you study.
- How you spell the style you study.
- Which language do you count in.
- Which language you use to refer to the techniques you do.
- How you mispronounced that technique.
- What uniform you wear.
- What it says on your certificate.
- Who signed your certificate.
- How many certificates you have.
- What words you say at the beginning and end of class.
- How you bow.
- In which direction you bow.
- Whose picture you do or do not bow to.
- Which flags do you display on the wall.
- The placement of those flags.
- Why you included THAT flag, but left out another.
- What color is your belt.
- How many stripes it has.
- Why you don't issue belts.
- Why belts are important.
- How you warm up.
- How long you warm up.
- How you stretch.
- Why you don't stretch.
- Which equipment you train with.
- What you say when you yell.
- Which direction your toes point.
- How deep your horse stance should be.
- You must train with weights.
- You must never use free weights.
- You're not running enough.
- You're not running fast enough.
- We don't run.
- Who taught you to do it THAT way.
- Is it martial arts or self defense.
- Is it self defense or combatives.
- Is it based on reality.
- It is too fancy.
- It is not flashy enough.
- Which police or military train in this style.
- Which elite units do it like this.
- The Samurai used this technique on the battlefield.
- The Ninja used this technique to assassinate.
- The Shaolin Monks trained like this.
- Why it will/will not work on the street.
- Why you should spar.
- Why you should spar a lot.
- Why you should never spar.
- Which weapons you train with.
- Why that type of weapons training is bullsh*t.
- Where did you get that knife.
- Gun and knife disarms are important.
- Gun and knife disarms are impossible.
- Why are you doing that technique.
- We don't do that technique in this style.
- That technique won't work.
- It won't work because you're doing it wrong.
- Here, let me show you how to do it.
- Where to put your hand when the other hand is hitting.
- I could so kill you with that technique.
- I could so kill you without touching you.
- I can make chi balls.
- I can kick higher than you.
- You need a partner to train effectively.
- Solo training is best.
- My instructor can beat your instructor.
- Do not blend the styles.
- Mix and match...that's the best way.
All I gotta say is just shut up. Just train.
Friday. Landed at the airport. Killed time until Marc's plane got in. Lise picked us up. Drive to Lise's for dinner, scotch, talks. Of the four instructors, (yours truly, Kasey Keckeisen, Marc MacYoung and Steve Jimerfield) Marc and Steve hadn't met. Lots of story telling. I listened.
Saturday. Eight hours of mat time with Steve Jimerfield as the lead instructor. 30-year cop, retired. Even at his age he moved and adapted like a force of nature. Good techniques, structure and thought process. Every art, system and instructor is formed by his or her environment. Steve's was as an Alaska State trooper. Back-up hours away, criminals with high confidence that they could make your body disappear if they got the upper hand and an environment (cold, slick, hypothermic and numb) that in some cases was more dangerous than the bad guy. He lived in a world that had no room for error and a teaching environment where bullshit would kill rookies.
All week, each class and each day was debriefed by the students and each day began with a safety briefing. Starting Monday, each new skill was thrown back into the One-Step to begin the integration process.
And usually followed by dinner, scotch and cigars. And talking. Lots of talking. I won't go into these much because in many ways it blended into a single long conversation.
Sunday. Day two of the cold weather One-on-One Control Tactics, plus two hours on a little pain compliance tool called the Talon. I'm not big on pain compliance, it's extra and pain is legendarily idiosyncratic and unreliable. I can ignore it so I assume most bad guys can. That said, "ow." Nice little bruises. Also- Jimerfield is an old judo guy. Between the judo and the experience, he moves the way so many aikidoka try to move and fail.
Monday. Our first hiccup. This entire seminar was Kasey's brainchild to see how our styles meshed, whether we could work together and take the first steps to designing a combined lesson plan. Which would be cool, because Jimerfield's DT program blows away anything I've seen and the program we designed at MCSO does, too, but in different ways. The meld might be amazing.
Unfortunately, we'd promised a 1on1CT Instructor's cert and that requires 40 hours with Steve for the basic. So we had to split into two tracks. Half of the mission was accomplished-- I got a good taste of how Steve taught, but he was going to miss most of what Marc and I taught. So we split into 2-tracks and I didn't get to watch one of them. Our track included:
Intro to the basic drill (with all the little lessons in that)
- Context (me) With a segue into teaching philosophy and teaching methods for emergency skills
- Structure while moving (Marc)
- Compliant cuffing (Steve)
- Power Generation (Marc's version)
- Power Generation (My version)
- Sightless (me)
- Strikes to takedowns (Kasey)
- Violence Dynamics (Me)
- Threat Assessment (Marc)
- One Step
- Practical Locks (Me)
- Force Law (Kasey)
- Leverage (Me)
- Ground Movement (Me)
- Ethics and Application of Pain (Me)
- Counter Assault (Me)
- Drives and Impacts (Marc)
- Environmental Fighting (Me)
- Weapon Retention (Steve) I took the few civilians who didn't carry off to the side to cover spine manipulation, infighting strikes and creating and exploiting pockets of space.
- Blade defense (Marc)
- Neck manipulation and structure on the ground (Kasey)
- Structure on the Ground (Kasey)
- Plastic Mind (Me)
- Size Difference Fighting (Marc)
Saturday, we had four new people joining us, and whereas every one of the regulars had agreed to get some sleep and start at ten, I couldn't reach these guys so I was there before eight. Ran them through the academics-- Violence Dynamics and Context and ConCom. Steve took most of the physical stuff. It looked like fun.
Sunday, we met at the Mall of America for an advanced people watching course. We included the Clothespin Game in the course. Check out Drills for a description. We broke into very small groups to draw less attention. All of the students got a session with each instructor.
This was extraordinary, according to the feedback. They got four entirely different ways of seeing the same thing and I'm frankly jealous I couldn't be a student for the other instructors. Kasey used his tactical and sniper experience to show them space. Marc taught a form of cold reading and evaluating relationships between people. Steve used his extensive experience watching criminals to point out criminal and pre-criminal behavior and attitudes. That's what I picked up in the moments I could eavesdrop and what I gathered from the debrief. I hit:
- How to expand peripheral vision, including seeing both ways down a corridor when you break a T, and how to look directly behind you
- Shadows and reflections
- Risk assessment as separate from threat assessment
- Moving without being noticed (stalking in the wild is about not being seen, stalking in crowds is about not being noticed)
- Active shooter options for civilians
- Defensive observation in pairs or teams
Hopefully, I'll have more time for writing. Things are already percolating.
Reminder:How to Run a Scenario in Port Townsend next weekend.A weekend at Soja Studios in Oakland the weekend after that.
A SLIGHT DETOUR
Now the time has come (Time)
There's no place to run (Time)
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I've been loved and put aside (Time)
I've been crushed by the tumbling tide (Time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (Time) The Chambers Brothers
Now the time has come for a brief interlude. A chance for me to tell you why I've decided to glance back in the rear-view mirror and reminisce about the days long ago when I walked along the narrow, (and narrow-minded), Christian path.
One of the reasons I'm sharing this experience with you is because for many years I have been coming into contact with believers who want to offer me spiritual advice and share with me the so-called 'good news' as if I've never heard it all before.
When they find out I'm pro-science, and that I advocate for a rational, critical-thinking, fact-based approach to issues, they want to tell me about prayer, and divine guidance, and miracles, and a simple, heart-felt faith.
As if I'm totally unaware of why they believe this way.
I encounter people all the time who believe in an afterlife of everlasting paradise in a real place called heaven or eternal punishment in an actual place called hell. Although they went to school and ostensibly learned about science, they will actually point up to the sky or down to the ground if you ask them where these places exist.
There are people I know who believe in a real, honest-to-goodness--or in this case badness--Devil, a cunning creature who, along with his millions of minions, tempts people and tries to keep them from coming to God and who works very hard to lead believers astray.
I meet otherwise sane individuals who believe in Noah and the ark, Jonah and the great fish, and, despite substantial evidence to the contrary, evidence which these people can see with their own eyes by visiting a natural history museum, they also believe that the earth is not billions or millions of eons as scientists know beyond a doubt, but instead they believe that it is merely a few thousand years old.
Some of them believe that each of us has a guardian angel. Or that every single thing that happens to us, every good thing, every bad thing, every seemingly random event, is all controlled by God. There are no coincidences, no mistakes, no happy little accidents even though Bob Ross teaches us differently. If a plane crashes, but people survive, God stepped in and worked a miracle. If thousands are killed in a tsunami, but a few make it out alive, then God's hand was at work.
Wars, famine, disease, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and catastrophic weather events, all are acts of God.
They believe wholeheartedly that the Bible is a great source of knowledge, perhaps the most important book ever written. Each word, they sincerely believe, was dictated, inspired, literally 'breathed in' to the human authors who were merely taking dictation.
I have no issue with their views that the Bible contains beautiful passages, moments of true stunning wisdom, and lofty phrases about love and peace and forgiveness, which if more people held, could make the world a better place.
But it's also full of violence, and misogyny, and vague, confusing, and even contradictory passages.
Many want to use this book as the basis for a modern 21st century education. Evolution and modern science may disagree with the ignorant, outdated views expressed in the Bible, so they try to use a flamethrower approach, and they tell educators not to teach the scientific facts. "It's merely a theory," they'll say about evolution, and they'll try to equate, put on even footing, a creation myth no more valid than any other ancient origin story.
They want to use the writings of people who knew nothing about hygiene and the germ theory of disease to control women's health issues. They want to use scriptural verses to bring faith-based principles to public education, post the Ten Commandments in public spaces, or preach against lifestyles which they detest.
"You're an atheist?" they'll ask. And when I say yes, they usually follow this up with, "No, you're an agnostic, someone who isn't sure."
Uh uh...I tell them. I'm an atheist, not some lukewarm agnostic.
I used to believe, but then...well, then I just stopped.
Now, I tell them, now I think. I use my brain. I see through the lies and deception, the fairy tales, and the magical thinking.
I escaped. I made it out alive, brain intact.
I'm sure. I'm certain. I'm convinced.
I am not ashamed of what I used to believe. I am no more embarrassed by my Christian experiences than I am when I remember that I put a tooth under my pillow, or when I recall that I left milk and cookies out on Christmas eve, or when I searched diligently for Easter eggs.
But when my believer friends plead with me, beg me to reconsider, beg me to come to my senses before it's too late, I'm reminded of what PZ Myers said: "I can't believe a word of it. I especially cannot believe any of it in the absence of reasonable evidence. It's really nothing but people making stuff up based entirely on what they wish to be true."
I don’t know the origin of this text, but it was given to me by my Aikido teacher John Tidder in the late 1990s.
It’s never let me down.
Sometimes nothing seems to go right, you feel
sluggish and uncoordinated -
Sometimes the practice will appear confusing
- no worries – train
because you will understand when the time is right.
Sometimes bits of a technique go well
- good – keep training.
But when you try to put the whole technique together it
falls apart – this is natural, be patient – nobody juggles
seven balls in just a few months -
Sometimes the practice is so brilliant that you can’t wait
until next time – be patient.
Next time you don’t feel like going because you’ve had a
tough day and you are tired -
You will always feel better for training.
RECEIVING CONTACT – A RATIONALE
Receiving contact in training is useful for the following reasons:
Physical conditioning is actually only a minor aspect of being hit. It may be obvious that the tougher you are, the more resistant you may be to receiving impact to some areas of the body, but the actual act of being hit does not really strengthen the body in this respect. There is an element of physical conditioning that occurs in training with regard perhaps to changes to skin thickness on striking surfaces and, as many Karateka who have used Makiwara will attest, a slight increase in knuckle size; but I would regard these developments as conditioning from making impact, not receiving impact.
Our bodies are strengthened, toughened if you will, through the combination of physical exertion, rest and appropriate diet. Well structured exercise and diet ensure that we have a stronger skeleton, combined with powerful muscles, tendons and ligaments, all supported appropriately by healthy organs and a good vascular system that can cope with the stresses of extreme heart and lung activity in the event of a combative situation. Being hit does not improve our physical conditioning, rather it tests it. It shows us how much we can take, and where we can sometimes afford to take knocks and where we absolutely cannot. If receiving hits is not physical conditioning per se but actually physical testing, its actual purpose is psychological conditioning.
Psychological conditioning is the key basis for engaging in any form of training where you actually experience being hit. In fact one of the key aspects of what people perceive as physical conditioning, pain tolerance, is actually psychological conditioning. The pain of being hit does not disappear, instead the mind becomes accustomed to it as little more than a signal that something is wrong. If you hold a person in a wrist lock or a finger lock for too long, they become accustomed to the pain and find they recover a degree of movement – which is why such techniques are generally best applied with faint pulses so that while the technique is never ‘off’’, the mind never has a chance to get fully accustomed to the pain. The more often we are hit, experience the pain, and realize that we can in fact carry on, the less attention the mind pays to the actual pain of receiving the strike. Now this obviously is extremely important for anyone who is training to be in a fight, whether they are preparing themselves for self defence or for a competitive fight, because the majority of this process of pain acceptance and stimulus rejection is subconscious. Our natural response to pain is to shy away. Think of when you first (or last) made the mistake of putting your hand on something hot and found that amazingly your hand had flinched off it without any thought. The pain tolerance that comes from the experience of being hit will not stop a natural unconscious flinch away from the impact, but what it will do is allow a person to continue to act rather than stop to consider or assess the pain because the mind is no longer rating the warning signal so highly because of the experience that it can continue and that the damage is not severe. Without such contact the likelihood that a person will freeze when their defences fail and they get hit is increased. The ability to carry on despite being caught and having your balance and rhythm distorted (in addition to feeling pain and possibly being winded) is an essential attribute of a successful fighter, and an ability that is best developed by careful and gradual exposure to receiving contact in a dynamic situation.
At the same time as the mind develops this ability to process yet set aside stimuli, another equally important mental process is being developed by experiencing contact. The process I have described above concerns the mental processing of the tactile stimuli of being hit, but fighting also touches on other senses such as sight, hearing, and potentially even taste and smell (the latter perhaps more so in real life than in competition). These senses assail the conscious mind more often because (with the exception of the latter two) they are the means through which we communicate, and fighting actually does involve a tremendous amount of communication through sights such as facial expressions and incoming attacks, and sounds such as threatening shouts, grunts, heavy breathing and screams.
Unless introduced to sparring at slow speed, many people in static no contact sparring have difficulty staying still when a counter strike is coming towards them, even if they know it will stop before hitting them. This desire to move out of the way is no bad thing, but sometimes the confidence that you are not going to be hit can pave the way to a dangerous over-confidence in the ability to evade an attack that is really intended to strike home. When the training regime involves contact, there is no uncertainty as to whether the strike ‘would have hit’. You learn to accept when you have been hit, how it became possible, how it made you move, and what you can do to change that outcome,
Receiving contact also teaches a very valuable lesson about the techniques that we use. Experiencing the force of a well executed strike through padding a trainee can truly appreciate how much pain and damage it can cause when no protective steps are taken. Such knowledge may have a positive influence on a student’s appreciation that outside of training, martial arts techniques are less for show or minor squabbles, but only for situations of real need. Contact in training can therefore be a movement to responsibility.
Some people use body armour, other people use heavy gloves. If you are making contact what you use (or do not use) for protection will determine the length of time you can take impact, the level of impact and the location of impact – as well as who trains with you.
Unsupervised and untrained use of padding and body armour can result in the very injuries that their use is designed to prevent. The head and the spine are particularly vulnerable to dangerous injury and the latter should never be struck in training. The golden rule to reduce injury is, as always, start training slowly, strike lightly in a static fashion before increasing contact, and when first transferring to mobile targets, again start slowly with a progressive force continuum. Always ascertain how much contact you and your partner are prepared to take in static training before moving to dynamic training.
In the videos on my youtube channel you can see people from a huge range of martial arts styles making contact with varying intensity in my scenario training. Before they do this they have examined the armour, read safety briefings, and exchanged strikes in pairs to get a feel of what they can do safely. It’s easy to forget that while the simulated fights only last a few seconds, the participants can be in armour for hours and can take lots of solid hits throughout a day’s training.
I would advise anyone undertaking contact training where both parties are making contact to always have a non-participating safety observer present to stop the training at any time.
Have fun and train safely.
"Turn, Turn, Turn"
You know that scene in the movie "The Bourne Identity," where Jason Bourne glances at a city map, and just like that he's got the whole thing memorized? Well, that's not me. I have a horrible sense of direction. I don't know about you but I've pretty much gotten lost in every city I've ever visited. Just ask my wife...no vacation trip is complete without me wondering where the heck we are.
One thing that HAS happened to me on a few occasions is that I get a little turned around and find myself driving the wrong way down a one-way road. It's very scary. And me hollering at everybody else doesn't help matters much. But it MUST be me, because everybody's flashing their headlights, honking their horns, and shouting oh so very helpful suggestions at the top of their lungs.
Even in another country in a foreign language, it's pretty easy to figure out what they're saying: Turn around! You're going the wrong way! Repent!
Okay, I got a little carried away. Nobody yelled "repent," but they could have, and it would've made perfect sense. Repent is a Biblical term. The Hebrew words "teshuvah" and "shuv" are often translated as repentance, but they actually have the meaning of turning back or redirecting. When people repent they are turning away from the way they are going and begin heading in a different direction.
When I was 14 I had a spiritual conversion experience, and I repented from my dark, evil ways. On a Sunday morning at Two Rivers Baptist Church near Nashville, Tennessee, with Pastor Jim Henry pleading with us sinners in attendance to give our hearts and souls to Jesus, I walked the aisle and knelt and said a "sinner's prayer." In that prayer I confessed that I was a sinner and worthy of damnation. Brother Jim explained to me that all I had to do then was accept the sacrifice that Jesus Christ had provided 2,000 years earlier, and then say the words which would theoretically invite Christ to come into my life and become my Savior.
At 14, growing up in the suburbs, I really hadn't had much of an opportunity to do a whole mess of sinning. Sure I stole a candy bar or two (or twelve), I had cussed and used the Lord's name in vain (a fairly normal thing to do at my house), I smoked a few of my Dad's Camel cigarettes (non-filtered), and I finished the dregs of my relative's cocktails at a New Year's party. I even lied about it when I got caught.
And sure I put my hand on a girl's bare thigh on a junior high field trip, and got the shakes when she put her hand on my hand, looked me in the eye and smiled...I guess that qualified as lust.
I also cheated on an algebra test, (but I still ended up with a 'C' so I think that one ended up getting cancelled out). I made fun of a an old man, a WWI veteran if I recall correctly, who, because of a stroke, had trouble talking and walking. I got in fights at school just, you know, to be cool and act tough. And on a dare I peeked in the ladies showers at Fall Creek Falls campground.
Stuff like that. You know, disciple of Lucifer stuff.
But I repented of my ways, and decided then and there to walk a path of righteousness. A narrow, rarely walked path to hear Brother Jim describe it. A path that led to big things down the road.
It was 1969, a time of chaos and conflict. A time of turmoil and uncertainty. It was the Age of Aquarius, but it was also just a year since the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and news of this tragedy was just starting to be disclosed. It was a time when hippies marched for peace, but it was also a time of growing violence--the notoriety of the Manson Family, a year since the rioting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and only a year since the tragic death of Bobby Kennedy and the attempt to end the Dream when Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in Memphis.
It was 1969, and I was filled with dread, with fear, with apprehension, with terror. I could easily see that world events were bringing our very existence to the precipice.
That is why I committed myself then and there to the lifestyle of a believer. Over the next decade I would go on to share my faith with others, become a prominent youth leader of a Christian movement, and seriously consider a career in the ministry.
I did not awaken and stray from that path until 1978.
Part 4--The Narrow Path
We dive into, “Answering the Call,” as we continue our discussion with Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCA) Jeffery and Kenji, and their findings from their research of martial artists. Oddly some famous names show up like, Carl Jung, and Joesph Campbell. Our first heroes get discussed and what that means to us, and other mind bending stuff as we shuffle through that loose leaf folder called the human mind.
MAKING CONTACT IN TRAINING – A RATIONALE
Contact in training is useful for the following reasons:
Prevention of joint injury
Development of correct distancing
Development of power and stability while executing a technique
Conditioning of striking surfaces in order to be able to execute a technique in reality if necessary
Prevention of joint injury
Executing techniques at speed against thin air, particularly in the early stages of martial arts training, can lead to the hyper-extension of joints. The knees and elbows are particularly vulnerable to this. Similarly incorrect alignment of the ankle and wrist joints (so that they would buckle and result in strains, sprains or even broken bones) can be grooved into the memory when training against thin air, or continuously pulling techniques. Progressive contact along a force continuum eliminates alignment problems at an early stage and the act of making contact significantly lowers the risk of hyper-extension.
Development of correct distancing
By striking against pads (and people in body armour) students gain a completely accurate picture, both visual and tactile, as to how close they need to be to a person to execute a technique in order to get the desired result. By using a pad, shield/bag you get immediate feedback on just how close you need to be to a static object to get the desired amount of penetration on each type of strike used. There is no doubt that point contact sparring works many useful skills, but it does neglect two fundamental principles of combat:
- When you hit a real person, as opposed to just make no contact or light contact (about 1 inch penetration), they move, and this movement affects the nature of any follow-throughs that you may or may not have to do.
- You get good at what you train for. There are many point sparrers who would have no difficulty in transferring their skills to a contact arena at the drop of a hat. The majority of these have probably had to hit somebody for real at some point in time while growing up and have a practical knowledge of the difference between training, competing and reality based upon experience. Alternatively they may have extensive experience of kicking through pads. There will be a large proportion however who, without necessarily intending to do so, will execute beautiful techniques in real life that fall just short of their target, or fail to connect with sufficient power, because that is what long hours of training have programmed them to do.
Development of power and stability while executing a technique
By striking against pads (and people in armour) students quickly learn if their technique isn’t working. Impact exposes flaws in body alignment, stances, and general biomechanics directly to the student. A good instructor can spot flaws in the practice of techniques against air, and attempt to explain the correct positioning. Through impact a student can feel that something isn’t working, and also feel the difference when it is. This form of direct feedback adds an entirely different dimension to the efficacy of the coaching process. When making impact students can start to quantify the power of their strikes to a greater degree. They receive tactile and visual feedback of improvement in a manner that is not gained by striking the air. Touch contact training, or no contact training can help develop speed, and increases in speed and accuracy can be observed, but speed does not necessarily equate to power, stability, or penetration – in those key areas contact does not lie.
Impact training does take on a different dimension with regard to stability when a student switches from striking a static target to hitting a moving target such as a person in body armour. Unless training solely for a fight that begins and ends with a sucker strike to a static victim, in a real fight (or competitive fight) the targets can be expected to be in motion. This movement will again have implications for the platform stability or otherwise required to land an effective strike.
Most people have been hit at some point in their lives, whether accidentally or deliberately, sometimes indirectly by objects and sometimes directly by other people. We tend therefore to have an idea in our minds that being hit hurts although we may not have a full appreciation of just how much different strikes hurt and how much damage they can do (of which more in the next issue). Fewer people though have a realistic appreciation of the fact that hitting something hard can often hurt. Depending upon whether you are training for competitions or training for self defence, you may be training to hit using just your fists to any part of the body, and you may need to prepare to use anything from full padding across your striking surfaces to no protective equipment at all. Here in making contact in practice we are looking to desensitize the striking surfaces of the body slightly so that pain is either minimized, or at least not shock and recoil inducing on the part of the striker. There is a significant difference between striking a target with the fist while wearing wrist wraps and 16oz gloves, and performing the same strike with the bare hand. It is easy to forget how the aforementioned tools can be slightly more forgiving of imprecise hand and wrist alignment than the bare flesh can tolerate.
There is a difference between striking the air, striking pads and striking a real person. Many people do have difficulty with the latter, and I have actually known people to have difficulty in hitting pads knowing that they are training to hit a real person. The vast majority of people, unless supported by a group, or overly practiced through group absolution and upbringing in the infliction of physical violence, are more inclined to gesture, posture and shout in an attempt to ‘win’ without fighting rather than engage in physical violence. Although there are factors that are conditioning increasing numbers of young people to be more comfortable with the execution of violence, which combined in some societies (particularly the UK) with increased availability of alcohol and social indifference to drunkenness make an unpleasant mix, many people have a natural aversion to hitting things. Just as the genetic impulse for adventure, risk taking, danger and fighting in some has led to some of mankind’s greatest discoveries and advances, the genetic impulse to avoid danger and hide has been responsible for the survival of the species as a whole.
Training to hit pads develops the factors listed above, all of which are required for practical application. But all of this is to no avail if the student cannot actually bring themselves to hit a real person. While physical practice on its own is not an absolute cure for this situation, training to hit a suitably padded person can begin to break down any barriers that a student may have in their mind.
The above points all illustrate the many advantages to making contact in training, the weaknesses they can help eliminate, and the injuries that they can help avoid. Unsupervised and untrained use of pads and body armour can however result in the very injuries that their use is designed to prevent ‘thin air strikers’ from receiving when first encountering resistance. The golden rule to reduce injury is, as always, start training slowly, strike lightly in a static fashion before increasing contact, and when first transferring to mobile targets, again start slowly with a progressive force continuum. If a professional boxer such as Mike Tyson can break his hand through throwing an unprotected punch hard at a hard target when not wearing gloves or wraps, then there is every possibility that you or I could do the same.
Mom: What did you learn at school today?
Son: I learned that if you're good, you get to go to heaven.
Mom: And where will you go if you're bad?
Son: If you're bad? If you're really bad?
You have to go stand in the corner.
(A True Family Conversation)
Charisma, from the Greek "χάρις" (charis), means a "gift of grace." The ancient, mythic heroes we read about were the ones who had received the favor, the grace, of the gods.
Here's how Max Weber defined charisma:
Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin.
In 1969 I met a charismatic preacher named Jim Henry. Jim was the pastor at Two Rivers Baptist, which at that time was an average sized Southern Baptist church in a subdivision just across the Cumberland River and not too far from my East Nashville neighborhood.
Jim seemed gifted and different from normal men, and he had several amazing qualities. He had a youthful exuberance and a tireless energy. He also had an amazing memory. When he talked to you he called you by name, hugged you like family, and made you feel that you were the most important person he knew.
A Baptist preacher seems less concerned about the intellectual minds of the congregation and more concerned about the souls of its people. They don't just get up and stand behind the pulpit to edify or instruct. Sure, that happens from time to time. But mostly they preach. They are known as dynamic individuals who denounce sin and who show people what they believe is a tremendous gap--a Grand Canyon sized chasm--between a temporary earthly existence leading to everlasting punishment on one side, while on the other side is the glory of a judgmental but loving God who offers redemption and eternal life.
Jim Henry was a master orator. Filled with emotion, an unmistakable Tennessee accent, and a genuine love of people, Jim could preach! He could go from whisper quiet to wake-the-dead all in the same sentence. He didn't always follow the old traditional Baptist formula in his sermons: 3 points, a poem and a prayer. No, he would dig deep, find a message, a story that resonated, a bit of homespun wisdom that touched peoples' hearts.
He liked to say that a preacher tells you what he's going to tell you, then he tells you, and then he tells you what he's just told you. It's a repetition of a simple gospel (literally 'good news') that, to a Southern Baptist preacher, bears repeating. Week after week after week. "I love to tell the story" goes the old hymn, and Jim loved the story of Christ's gift of redemption.
This story, a story that now holds no more significance for me than a story about a magical snowman at Christmas, a generous albeit eccentric Tooth Fairy, or Linus' Great Pumpkin, this story so drenched with emotion, made perfect sense to me 45 years ago.
Listening to Jim at that moment, hearing him speak directly to me, I could see that my sin, mine alone, required payment, sacrifice. In ancient times a symbolically pure animal, a lamb, would be offered as a sacrifice. But all of us, every person on earth, had missed the mark, and a great payment was required. A mere lamb wouldn't do. Here's where it grew complicated, but Jim was patient and talked to us in clear, easy to understand terminology. God Himself came to earth as a man, and this Man, Jesus, was free of sin and was the perfect sacrifice. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was able to satisfy the requirements that God the Father Himself had established, and so the death of Jesus had to occur.
Jesus died on the cross, Jim told us, and in dramatic, soaring language, his fist pounding the pulpit to emphasize the nails driven through the hands and feet, Jim tearfully described the crucifixion, the pain and the suffering of this sacrificial death.
This message hit me as hard as a two by four smashing upside my head. Here I was thinking I was a good person, but somewhere in this sermon those views were shattered to bits, like the proverbial brick through a plate glass window.
At Southern Baptist churches, at the end of each Sunday morning service, an invitation is sent out to all in attendance. The pastor invites you to get up from the pew where you are sitting, walk down the aisle, and come to the front of the church to demonstrate to God and to everyone in attendance that you are ready to give up your old way of doing things. Announce to the congregation that you are setting aside your sinful, selfish ways, your drinking, your smoking, your lusting and your skirt chasing, your lying and your stealing and your coveting. Tell everybody that you are a sinner, but that you accept God's grace, His gift of forgiveness that passes all understanding. Tell them all that you open your heart to Jesus, and that you invite him into your soul to change you, redeem you, empower you to live according to His instructions. That you repent. As Carlos Santana's song says, "You've got to change your evil ways, Baby."
At the end of that service, at 14 years old, too young to commit that many sins, too young to even break all 10 commandments, I, a sinner worthy of eternal damnation, felt compelled to walk the aisle and accept the redemption offered by the Lamb.
In Part 3--The U Turn
"Waking up is like going to bed, except you open your eyes instead."My sister's poem
In the summer of '72, in Dallas, Texas, the sun was scorching hot, and I was thirsty, so very thirsty. The ground, a huge swath of land which would eventually become a freeway just north of the city, was dusty and dry and cracked like a jigsaw puzzle from the relentless, punishing heat. I was standing in a crowd which officials estimated at somewhere between 100,000 to 200,000 people. Not too far away I could see the Reverend Billy Graham, his hair long enough to touch his collar, wading through the sea of people who reacted as if a rock star was in their midst. Waiting for him up on the stage were some famous celebrities who had recently converted to Christianity, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.
This was the summer of Jesus, and the gathering in Dallas, Explo '72, referred to by some people as the "Christian Woodstock," was the high point of my own spiritual conversion. It was to be a religious explosion, and the people in attendance would ultimately scatter like spiritual shrapnel with a message of love and forgiveness.
The crowd that day was huge, but just 3 years earlier, in the summer of '69, I had seen a similar gathering of people.
I was 14 years old, and my parents had driven us down from Nashville and dropped me and my sister and her friend at the gates of the Atlanta International Raceway. It was the 4th of July weekend, and as soon as we got out of the car my parents hurried off to the white sandy beaches of Florida for a rare getaway.
I noticed right away that it was going to be hot. As temperatures reached 100 degrees later that afternoon, local fire departments used their water hoses to spray the crowd at the Atlanta Pop Festival, just a few weeks before Woodstock.
At one point that afternoon I grew dizzy, probably an early warning of heat stroke, and I walked to a first aid trailer where I lay down on a cot and drank some cold orange juice, swallowed some salt tablets, and enjoyed a cherry popsicle as my hands and shirt became red and sticky.
After cooling off I wandered back to the crowd only a short distance from the stage where I watched Spirit, Pacific Gas and Electric, Sweetwater, Chicago Transit Authority, Blood Sweat and Tears, Grand Funk Railway, Paul Butterfield, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and Joe Cocker.
Between acts, as the stage crew was setting up for the next band, with Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" and Steve Miller's "Living in the USA" playing on loudspeakers on continuous loop as people in the audience threw frisbees, I again grew hot and thirsty and accepted a jug of grape-flavored drink being passed around. I took a big swig before sending it along to the people sitting next to me.
Tripping on acid for the first time in my life I walked through the crowd and saw people singing and dancing and laughing. I saw hippies making love on a quilt. I watched a group of people doing what I now realize was Tai Chi, and I saw partially naked people sitting on a red blanket and eating from a wicker picnic basket.
I saw Janis Joplin, and I thought she was indescribably beautiful, her screams so raw and soulful.
Later that night as it grew darker, still floating on the last remnants of my first acid trip, I heard Led Zeppelin. The music was so loud it sounded like the war of the worlds, and I felt the music deep down in the marrow of my bones. The music, so full of imagery and potent sound, had special, elusive meaning that was just outside my grasp.
Who knew then that I would be swept away by a religious youth movement that would create in me a fervor and zeal and a desire to bring others with me in my spiritual journey. Who could have predicted then, and who would believe it now, now that I only faintly remember the strong, visceral way that this faith once clutched my mind, that I would become a youth leader in this movement, that I would find the meaning I was searching for, and that for a brief moment I would consider a lifelong career as a minister in the service of Jesus Christ.
In Part II--The Shattering
Warning. This post is going to be legen…
A call to arms with which anyone who has watched the American sitcom ‘How I met your mother’ will be familiar. The character Barney Stinson (played by actor Neil Patrick Harris), a suit aficionado, often tries to get his friend Ted to don a suit and head out with him to chat up the ladies of New York city.
For Barney Stinson the suit is like a superhero’s costume. To him it is a symbol that separates him from the pack. When he is suited up he is in the zone, on top of his game and ready for action.
Do we as martial artists suit up?
I frequently see a change in attitude when Karateka don their gi and belts. The gi is a symbol that separates the activities and attitudes in the dojo from the real world. It helps us focus and often the presence of our peers also in uniform around us reaffirms and reinforces our sense of purpose and awareness in training. The man standing in the gi is more alert, sharper, and radiates a greater sense of confidence than the tired man in the changing rooms at the end of the working day.
I see the same mental shift in gear when participants in some of my training don full body armour. There is a frisson of nervous energy, the sense that someone really is going to be trying to hit them, the level of awareness increasing as a result.
I’m sure that even in classes or training where no set uniform is required, the donning of training shorts, the wearing of a particular type of clothing, all help the wearer focus their mind on the serious business of having fun through training, even if it doesn’t seem like fun at the time.
wait for it…
The thing about Barney Stinson is that it doesn’t matter whether it was a real suit, a flight suit, a penguin suit or even his birthday suit, the suit was merely a facade – he was the superhero he believed himself to be all along. His action of suiting up was a mental not a physical process.
One of the more popular action movie series of the last decade has been Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy. One thing that was highlighted at the end of the first movie, Batman Begins, and throughout the trilogy is something that fans of the comic book hero have known for some time: Bruce Wayne is the mask, the false identity. Throughout all three films we see the character engaging in espionage, fighting, training and saving lives without the suit or mask. When Selina Kyle dances with Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises and asks him who he is pretending to be, his answer “Bruce Wayne” is both tongue in cheek and honest. Batman became who he was through a traumatic event, his reaction to it, the training he sought out and his experience ‘in the field’. The bat suit is a symbol, a tool, and a form of protection for him and those he cares for, but whether he is wearing it or not he is always the Batman.
We are no different.
Whether we wear tracksuits, doboks, Gi or shorts we are always the people we become in those uniforms, we just need to give ourselves the permission to ‘suit up’ at will. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we must be able to step up, change gears, switch on or suit up in an instant. If our clothing is our trigger then we need to disassociate, and not only choose new external visual or aural triggers, but also internal ones that we can activate ourselves at will to create that altered mental state.
As Barney Stinson might say
“When you stop believing the suit makes you who you are, and realise you’ve been that person all along, you become awesome. True story.”