One of my favorite musical albums of all time is "Passion, Grace and Fire" by John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía. I love that title, and it reminds me of some of the incredibly talented martial artists I have met in my almost five decades of training. They are passionate about their art, they move with sublime grace and athleticism, and they have amazing power and intensity. They are knowledgeable, obsessive, and disciplined, and their incredible skills took long years of hard work.
But one day it dawned on me...they are all, each one, nothing but flesh and bone. They can do amazing things, but they have no special power that can defy physics. They cannot work miracles. They are not superhuman. Their skill is simply a combination of sweat equity and good genetics.
There is nothing miraculous or divine about their skill. It is not magic. They did not receive a revelation from ancient scholars filled with an even older source of wisdom and knowledge. They did not mentally or spiritually communicate with warriors from another era. They are not the recipients of insight from an alien race.
My epiphany occurred in the 1970s. I was at the theater watching a Bruce Lee movie, "Way of the Dragon," the one where Bruce was fighting Chuck Norris in the Roman collessium. It was the scene where Bruce realizes he cannot fight Chuck the way Chuck wants him to, and so he does some boxer's footwork, loosens up, and becomes more alive, and less restrictive. When he starts turning the tables and beating his opponent, someone in the audience shouted out "Bruce Lee could whip Muhammad Ali!" The audience went crazy, and I truly thought somebody was going to get killed. The thought that Bruce Lee could beat the world champion was just ludicrous.
I realized at that moment that some people thought that Bruce Lee had superhuman powers. Sure, his blue-flame intensity and amazing screen presence were electrifying, and his moves on the big screen seemed palpably powerful and too fast for the human eye. But they were choreographed scenes, carefully staged and creatively edited to portray Bruce in the best light.
I soon began to realize that many people like to think of martial arts teachers and fighters as somehow different from mortal men. They speak reverently about their instructors. They not only bow to them out of respect but, in some cases, out of adoration.
Flash forward to just a few years ago, well into the 21st century. In some online chats with fellow martial artists a debate started, and it soon turned into an all-out intense argument. Here's the gist of the "discussions." Although it was actually several people, I took the liberty of rolling all of their arguments into one person:
Him: "Bruce Lee was not only the best pound-for-pound fighter of his day, he was the best fighter of his or any other day."
Me: "How can you say that? Outside of boxing, there were no open, sanctioned full-contact competitions during that time, and there was no objective way to measure his potential performance capabilities. He wasn't even that big."
Him: "He was a streetfighter, on the roofs of buildings in China, taking on all comers from all the different styles. He fought in no-rules competitions against street thugs. He also boxed and won championships in Hong Kong. He might have been smaller than fighters you see now, but he had an edge they didn't have."
Me: "Most of that is hyperbole and myth. We have very little record of his accomplishments at that time, and what we do have is mostly anecdotal. Granted, he was quick and had natural athleticism, and he was probably a fast learner. And because of his movie experience he had learned to project and seem bigger than himself, but we don't really know much about what he could do against other trained fighters."
Him: "Bruce was ahead of his time, fighting full-contact, incorporating training methods and fighting skills from dozens of different styles."
Me: "I have no doubt about that. He rationally concluded that staying confined within the artificial parameters of a limited style would not allow him freedom of movement and expression. Hats off to him and the other fighters throughout history who have made the same discovery. MMA pretty much does that routinely today, picking and choosing and mixing and matching."
Him: "No, you don't get it. He was the first. He was faster and stronger than other fighters, and he could take on any fighter in the world. Whoever he came up against he beat, and he beat soundly. He would be able to fight any champion from any style at any time in history."
Me: "Dude, you've got to be kidding...Mike Tyson would've made mince meat out of Bruce. Or what about a champion gladiator from Roman times...guys who fought to the death dozens and even hundreds of times? What about a Spartan warrior? What about a professional MMA fighter?"
Him: "Bruce would have beaten Mike Tyson. Bruce would've beaten them all."
Me (almost hysterical): "You can't possibly be serious! Mike outweighed him considerably. Mike routinely knocked out his opponents in the first round. Mike's power was phenomenal!"
Him: "I'm not talking boxing, I'm talking a street fight. Bruce knew a lot more than Mike did about no-rules fighting."
Me: "I'm pretty sure Mike's upbringing exposed him to some real fights. Mike, for the most part, accepted the rules of boxing when he fought in the ring, but outside the ring he knew a thing or two about dirty fighting too."
Him: "Mike would've been no match against Bruce's eye jabs and powerful kicks."
Me: "You're starting to believe what you see in the movies. In the movies people can fly, they can absorb terrible punishment like Rocky and still get up, shake it off, and go on to defeat Apollo Creed. They can do superhuman things in the movies, but that don't make it real. Bruce looked GREAT on the screen. He was ahead of his time, and his fights looked fast, frenetic and furious. But that was just the movies. Surely you don't believe that was real!"
Him: "Lots of people who met Bruce and worked out or sparred with him have commented on how fast he was, how quick and deceptive and how powerful he was."
Me: "No doubt. He had natural abilities that were probably way above average. In a world population of billions you're bound to have people who are above average in strength and power, or speed and quickness. You do understand that the law of averages means that most of us are average, but there are some, a rare few, from time to time, who are at the far end of the scale, right?"
Him: "Like Bruce Lee!"
Me: "Sure, I'll admit that. He was above average. That's why myself and a million others are big fans of his work and have been inspired by him. He commanded the screen the way Steve McQueen did, with that same cocky charisma. He had a sharp, inquisitive mind. He was a voracious reader who was hungry for knowledge. He was skilled at pulling in snippets of information from a wide source and bringing it all together to resynthesize what he learned. He borrowed ideas from Krishnamurti and philosophers, he read through magazines on bodybuilding and fitness, he took notes as he poured over books about boxing and martial arts, and he pulled it all together to create a modern, progressive approach free from arbitrary restrictions. This was a wonderful, fresh approach. And lots of people in all walks of life continue to be inspired by it. But that approach wasn't even new or groundbreaking."
Me: "Others have done it. Heck, even the other Bruce, Bruce Tegner, he of a thousand cheap books, did the same thing. He treated martial arts styles like a buffet table, picking and choosing from what he liked best, what he thought would really work. And during WWII, the OSS brought in experts--cops, soldiers, professional fighters, street fighters--and culled fighting skills to teach to operatives dropped behind enemy lines. British commandos did the same thing, even influenced our approach, using an outside-the-rules fighting method that was straight to the point, brutal and unapologetic. My guess is that people have done this throughout history, observing, critiquing, and gathering what works. All I'm saying is don't try to make him out to be something he's not. Appreciate him for what he was...a great actor, a knowledgeable martial artist. But that's all, nothing more."
Him (not hearing a damn word I said): "Bruce Lee was and is the greatest fighter of all time."
I think we all do this from time to time; suspend our sensible, rational, logical, critical thinking ability and settle into nonsense. We have evolved to be social animals, animals who recognize a hierarchy and seek out a pecking order, a ranking so we can see who we get to push around and who we need to obey. We think of our leaders as 'above' us, and we think of others who are weaker as 'beneath' us.
Those we admire we often adore, and we elevate them in our minds and come to revere them. Many people think of athletes as their heroes. The champion, as in countless myths from antiquity, faces fear and mortal injury, stands tall and courageous, and suffers on his way to victory. The champion challenges our limitations and inspires us to work harder, go further, accomplish more.
It's like that scene from the wrestling movie, "Vision Quest," where Elmo is talking to Louden Swain about Pele:
Elmo: You ever hear of Pele?
Louden: Yeah, he's a, a soccer player.
Elmo: A very famous soccer player. I was in the room here one day... watchin' the Mexican channel on TV. I don't know nothin' about Pele. I'm watchin' what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in - upside down and backwards... the goalie never knew what hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around his head. Everybody's screaming in Spanish. I'm here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying. That's right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute... let me tell ya, kid - it was pretty glorious. It ain't the six minutes... it's what happens in that six minutes.
1) A class for women going into law enforcement. I wrote about this in "Violence: A Writer's Guide." Men and women are different. And law enforcement, like it or not is a paramilitary, testosterone-laden and violence-driven profession. (Note well, I don't consider any of those things to automatically be negative.) Not all, but most guys going into these professions have already handled the locker-room politics of team sports. Many of the women going into the job don't know when they are being tested versus being harassed or when it is absolutely necessary to handle things yourself. Many (again, not all) were raised that friendship comes from niceness and respect is assumed. In this world, friendship stems from respect, which is never assumed and must be earned-- and niceness itself is suspect. We lose too many good female officers on probation because no one taught them that being a nice person and being a good officer are unrelated things.
(I am aware that this sounds sexist. FIDO. One of the reasons that this class doesn't exist is because the politically powerful people who control the dialogue insist that men and women are the same. This stupidity and blind ideology, no matter how well meaning, condemn too many women to failure. The pretense that the world is fair or equal creates victims.)
2) Political survival for tactical leaders. This class appears to not exist for two reasons. Number one, the political players keep insisting that they aren't playing politics. The other guys are playing politics, but not me... So they tell the operators just to be natural and everything will be fine. The second reason is that tactical guys have a couple of blindspots and an arrogance issue. The blindspot? We believe that 'playing politics' is an inborn things, some kind of genetic trait. The arrogance? We believe we are above that: "You play your silly little bullshit political games. We're saving lives here."
Because of this some really good operators get punished or sideline. How cool would it be if you could play the games well enough that your budget didn't get gutted every year. And it's a skill. As much resistance as there might be to such a class, it would be extremely effective. Because if there is one thing good operators know it is how to learn and how to use information and how to adapt. And politics is a skill.
For some reason, the first name that comes to mind for collaborating on this is Greg Ellifritz, which is odd because I've never met the man.
3) Nerd rehabilitation. The Conflict Communication material keeps turning over new rocks. Originally intended as a de-escalation program for cops to manipulate crooks, the principles have worked for everything from negotiating huge business deals to family issues to getting along in the workplace. The reason is that it is natural communication done consciously. A friend pointed out tonight that ConCom has all the tools for people with no social ability (nerds was his word, not mine) to gain those abilities as skills instead of inborn talents.
All three of these would be good classes. Valuable. None of them do I feel fully qualified to design and deliver on my own. Ahhhhhh, who am I fooling anyway? As if there was enough free time...
Nine days in MInnesota with Steve Jimerfield, Marc MacYoung and Kasey Keckeisen:
How to run a scenario in Port Townsend, WA:
A long weekend in Oakland. Ambushes and Thugs, ConCom and a Playdate. Probably.
Targets seem to be the bane of anyone who works these days. Whatever line of work you’re in, I’d be surprised if you haven’t been set either a sales target, efficiency target or an energy saving target and so the list goes on.
Targets have been around for a long time in the martial arts too. What are gradings, certificates and belts but targets for students to achieve – indications (in theory) of progress. There are a number of students who covet their belts and focus all their training towards them, students who love the gradings, students who covet belts but fear and dread gradings, and students who couldn’t care less about rank and just want to train. After all, isn’t the journey more important than the goal?
What is the goal?
If your goal is to become fitter or healthier, then the set targets of gradings can help you achieve that aim by pushing you harder. If your goal is to gain ‘a black belt’ then gradings and their targets are pretty essential in that you can’t achieve your goal in most systems without them (although you could just buy a belt). If your goal is to become imbued with self knowledge and self discipline there are possibly better ways of spending your time, but the targets set by your syllabus and the lengths you will have to go to achieve them will certainly improve your self discipline. If your goal is to become a zen warrior – you probably need to get out more.
Are you training Kata to know its meaning or to look good? Both can benefit your confidence but only one can benefit you in self defence.
What if the goal is to become a better fighter or improve your ability to defend yourself?
I separate these two because to my mind they are distinct entities that can overlap. The psychological and physical training needs and goals of a person wishing to successfully fight in a ring or competition differ from those of someone wishing to successfully negate, survive and escape violence. Both actual events, when they occur place physical and mental demands on the individual, but the emotional, psychological and physical environment and consequences of each are very different. There are elements of training common to both, but there are also significant differences and this is where the goal becomes more important than the journey. If you aren’t fixed on where you are going, how can you select the best route and means of transport to get there?
You must decide if karate is for your health or to aid your duty. Anko Itosu
If you are training for a fighting competition then there are a number of targets that you will set for your physical techniques when determining your repertoire:
- competition appropriateness – there’s no point in you drilling an item that will get you disqualified.
- attack specific – the rules and previous fights mean that you know what is going to be coming your way, you can thus take steps to drill how to evade and counter combinations of these techniques.
- adrenaline tolerant – physical movements that your body can do using predominantly gross motor skills,
- Initiative – keeping/gaining this until the round/fight is over
- speed – how fast can you execute a technique
- power – is the technique going to do what you want?
- redundancy – does the technique leave you with options if it doesn’t quite go to plan?
- transferable skills – when learning one thing helps develop something else you are doing,
- unbalancing – taking control of the other person’s balance,
- multiplicity – learning individual things that can work against different attacks,
- multi range – being able to use your body to hit and escape no matter what position you find yourself.
Ground fighting is more commonly trained by a broader group of martial artists these days and most rule sets make it a sensible strategy. But rolling on the pavement with someone who might take the fight to a new level may not be so effective. It’s an important part of a rounded self defence arsenal, but generally we should be training tactics that are proven under pressure to enable us to avoid it.
In addition to this as a fighter you will have combat related targets such as your strength, stamina, weight, diet and conditioning.
If we now look at the technical physical development targets you would set yourself for a self defence repertoire, we see overlaps but also clear differences:
- habitual acts of violence – training is focused on what are statistically the most likely attacks,
- adrenaline tolerant – physical movements that your body can do using predominantly gross motor skills,
- speed – how fast can you execute a technique
- power – is the technique going to do what you want?
- predictable response - the knowledge of how people think and talk and move,
- initiative - keeping/gaining this until the danger has gone,
- redundancy – knowing and training what to do if something doesn’t work,
- low maintenance – easy to learn and easy to do without much practice,
- transferable skills – when learning one thing helps develop something else you are doing,
- unbalancing – taking control of the other person’s balance,
- multiplicity – learning individual things that can work against different attacks,
- ballistic response – predominantly using striking as your physical means of escape if verbal strategies fail,
- multi range – being able to use your body to hit and escape no matter what position you find yourself in,
- vital points – knowing the weakest points of the human body.
- verbal strategies – appropriate speech, tone and body language and behaviour patterns to negate danger or distract,
- legally underpinned – appropriate responses that keep you and others safe, but reduce the likelihood of post event prosecution.
Force on force threshold and pain management training is important for both competition and self defence training. If you haven’t experienced it you don’t know whether it will challenge or threaten you. Is pain management on your list of targets?
Compared with the competition fight your strength, stamina, weight and diet are less significant. A real encounter is not likely to last as long as a competition one. Although there would seem to be many similarities between the two sets of targets, the first target in each will separate the paths considerably.
These are merely targets to help you chose what to train. You can then just pick some techniques to work with, but again – if you want to get the psychological benefits of realising improvement, you need to set yourself targets. How accurately can you hit? How much can you stretch? How much can you move the bag? How long can you sustain a high aerobic level? Your targets should always be SMART, that is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Time limited.
- Specific: Make clear and unambiguous statements about what it is you are going to achieve.
- Measurable: There must be some way to determine when the objective has been met. Make a statement that describes how you 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 impossible, so it is important to set the bar at the right height initially, you can raise it once you’ve achieve it.
- Rewarding: The goal should bring sufficient reward that it is worth undertaking. There is always a cost / benefit ratio to consider. Every task has its cost. 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 target will be achieved. It is important to approach tasks consistently rather than sporadically. Breaking the goal or target down into sub-targets and estimating time frames is essential if you are to understand the cost of the task.
Sometimes I wonder whether the lack of clear goal setting by instructors and students is responsible for the high drop out rate in the martial arts. Without clear objectives and recognisable, understandable and achievable targets towards that objective how do we measure our success and gain mental satisfaction and confidence from our training?
Want to have a stable of extraordinary fighters in any martial art? Make the training tough. Make the training so tough that 90% of your people drop out. The people who stick with it will be tough and strong and endurant and have high pain thresholds. They will be able to hold with anyone else. Don't think for a second that it validates your training. They were selected, not trained. Your training did exactly jack shit. If you set the selection bar high enough, you can be an unbelievably crappy trainer and your students can still hold their own.
This is on my mind. Jess had her first muay thau fight months ago now. I'd heard it'd gone well but didn't get any details until we could sit down and talk during the Boston trip.
Looking at Jess, knowing Jess (and please, Jess, if you read this find the compliment in it. I am so proud to know you) you wouldn't think of her as a fighter. Slender, unathletic, health problems. Not exactly social. Not the kind of person you think of as a fighter, much less a muay thai fighter. But she trained, she trained hard with a good coach...and she kicked ass.
Selecting for heart is cool. But training heart is hard and time consuming. There are no quick fixes, no program that will make someone brave. It has to be grown over time and it takes an extraordinary teacher to make that happen.
To do it in sport is incredible. To grow heart in SD is critical. Selection in a self-defense school is toxic. You wind up training only the people who have no need. Those with a true need for SD, the victim profiles, would never pass a selection-based process.
There are very few who can do it, even fewer who bother. And almost no one bothers in a competition-based school. Except for Jeff and people like him. Jeff is Jess's coach.
Kata is often viewed by both detractors and supporters as a dead beast. Supporters respect its usefulness through the technical repertoire it provides while detractors point out (and they do have a point) that the same skills could probably be learnt more usefully, effectively and efficiently through the dynamism of sparring. There are of course many Kata techniques that are never seen in sparring (the majority of them I suspect), primarily because the rules (and the range and limitations they enforce) do not permit it, but also because the techniques themselves are either inadequately understood or too hard to control in the struggle of close range combat.
It is through bunkai (and oyo – if you really want to distinguish between the two) that we attempt to realise the intent of the techniques of the Kata. Bunkai is often very different to the sort of sparring described above, adhering more to a beginners one step or two step dance than a challenging dynamic exchange of techniques. I often see tremendously contrived bunkai where an attacker has to make several specific techniques in sequence in order to the assigned bunkai to work – fine if these reflect techniques or combinations of techniques that the defender in question is likely to face (whether in self defence or in sport) but pathetic if they require a rigid sequence, technique combination, timing and distancing that match no plausible attack. Then we have the current flavours of our time: bunkai involving the use of pressure points and bunkai utilising grappling techniques. I have no problem with either of these (since both have a traceable past in early Karate texts such as the Okinawan Bubishi); they do however need to reflect attacks and positions that both defender and attacker could find themselves in (again either in a sport or self defence situation) and are reliable under extremes of pressure and adrenaline.
So can bunkai be brought alive and applied in unpredictable training? This does depend upon the definition we choose to use for alive. I’d say it’s where either practitioner has the freedom to use whatever techniques they want (with no pre-arranged technique type (for example punch or kick) or range, but I do wish to add a caveat. Much of traditional Karate technique relies on impact. By this I refer to the fact that when you hit a person, their body moves and their posture changes. The movement of the target as a result of impact will naturally affect the choice of any following technique and thus alive training should either be almost full contact with both participants wearing good quality body armour or touch with both participants endeavouring to move as if they had been hit. The latter action takes some training and fast reflexes in static and dynamic bunkai practise and is probably near impossible in alive training – hence for me if both are to deliver powerful techniques then protection is required – that way each person will move naturally since all they will have to consider is the fight (well – almost, but I’ll get on to that) rather than how they should move if hit.
There is a further catch, and this comes down to the purpose of the bunkai. If the bunkai is solely being practised to become a better Karateka or sport competitor then all that I have said above is fine, if however the bunkai is being practised for self defence then the situation above only applies to the defender since the attacker should predominantly be constrained to the use of habitual acts of violence.
If you look at the make up of Karate Kata you can see that there are comparatively few punching techniques overall compared to other body movements. This may come as a shock, it may not be something you’ve really considered, but if you don’t believe me – go ahead and count. In close proximity many of the techniques that seem too cumbersome to utilise in ‘real’ sparring take on a new dynamic as they push and unbalance and turn other people both before, during and after making contact. Distance changes everything. It’s difficult to use a straight or reverse punch when you are almost chest to chest with someone (or if you are), the so-called blocking techniques come into their own. Start a trend – call them receivers and alter your student perception of them from day one.
Can we make bunkai alive? The answer is yes, but we do need to decide what level of compromise we are prepared to accept. If we want to keep techniques directed towards the eyes then obviously a visor is needed. If we want to use controls then some form of verbal safety escape cue is required (if you train to tap on the street what happens if your attacker taps you while in a lock?). If you want to hit to the head then you need to pull techniques on impact and wear gloves and head protection, otherwise you won’t be training for long, but if you want to be able to grapple you’ll need to restrict the padding on your gloves.
Once you start exercising Kata in this way you’ll be amazed at how the movements can take on a life of their own – how in many cases the precise sequences of existing forms actually do work (in many different ways) in their precise sequences. The training can be done dynamically without safety equipment, and I have taught my flow drills in both the UK and the USA in this way, but I would advise anyone wishing to take the big step to aliveness to get some high quality body armour – and given the techniques of Kata, I’d advise coverage for the legs, knees, groin and back, in addition to the normal head and torso protectors.
Should Kata bunkai be trained alive? If you are training for self defence or for any form of close range combative contest my answer would be yes. Alive training pressure tests you and your ability to apply techniques and keep thinking in a manner that no other training can. Alive bunkai carries a relatively high risk of injury compared to other forms of practice and thus, in my opinion, should be restricted to students with sufficient experience (and previous pressure testing) to exercise control. Dynamic bunkai training in set drills is a reasonable alternative until students reach that level. In general in Karate we are used to seeing three levels of sparring, pre-arranged static sparring, pre-arranged dynamic sparring and freestyle. Why don’t we train bunkai in the same way?
Kata doesn’t have to be dead.
Paul DiRienzo of Metrowest Academy is a fun guy and a great host. He's gathered or created (since that's what good instructors do) a fine set of people with good skills and open minds. Logic of Violence and ConCom over two days. Went well.
Spent most of midweek with Dr. Coray. Some light hiking and quality time with her mastiff/pit mix.
Dinner with Wes and his lovely wife, L. As always, insanely deep talk. L has insights into a world I've never seen. Wes is brilliant and entirely too self-effacing. I think it would embarrass certain people, but sometime I'd like to do a post on people who should be household names in martial arts and self-defense. People who are a full order of magnitude better than the 'masters' and champions you know, but teach quietly in their garages and basements; write treatises that they then file away. If I ever write that post, Wes will feature.
Saw Jeff for just a minute during the week. He was teaching a kid's class. Jeff would also be featured in any piece about amazing martial artists who should be famous.
Met with Erik Kondo, for a big project that a few of us are working on. More info on that later. But it was enjoyable. Erik is fun, intelligent... I have three pages of notes from our little breakfast meeting.
Then taking pictures for the cover of the Joint Lock video due out early in 2014.
This is not the picture, but the sign in the salon window was too cool so Doc Coray agreed to put on a lock:
And an evening class on Threat Assessment for YMAA Boston. Ben was a warm person, a good host and he didn't mind getting bent and twisted for a cover. Class went well, I think, but it was getting a touch frustrating, in that most of the teaching for the trip so far was talk. It's important. Most of the people who come to play with me have good physical skills. But just because it's important doesn't mean I don't get bored. I totally needed to get hit.
Which brings us to Saturday and the point of this post. Molly-Mac came up with a last minute option for my free weekend, a place to brawl. People came from New Jersey and Connecticut (I think those were the farthest) for a play date.
This was the deal: Not a seminar. No fee. Donations would be gratefully accepted and split with the host. Then it was more or less the VPPG formula. Each participant got asked, "What do you want to work on?"
And that's what we did. Multiple bad guys was fun. Nate took some impact on that one. David asked some tough de-escalation questions. Art wanted to play with close-range power generation. Someone wanted to play with close range kicks. I got to push my knee a little (first ukemi practice since the knee injury).
If time allows, I think Play Dates will be part of my regular traveling schedule. Any time I have an extra day and a venue...
It’s not just you. It’s not just the threat. There is a layered interplay between and through the involved people in any situation. It is affected by other people who might be around (witnesses and also audience) and even geography. People who feel trapped respond very differently than people who feel free to leave. The invisible thoughts and imaginary fears and beliefs have a huge impact on behavior. The officer who has been counseled about a recent force incident will reliably have a slight hesitation in his or her next force incident.A hit is a simple thing and you can work to perfect your strike… but hitting someone is not a simple thing and will be affected by the threat’s movement and body composition and skill and positioning and to a great extent by his mindset.And your strike, which you have practiced to physical perfection, will be affected by your mind. Sometimes, we call that choking.Logic of violence the other day, this was coming up a lot. “Someone is approaching and you think he might have bad intent. Do you make eye contact?”“What if the threat doesn’t respond to your boundaries?"“Can you back up while setting a boundary? What if you circle?”The thing is, everyone knows the answers to all of these. Humans are communicating animals—it is what we do. But we don’t, generally, have a conscious skill at it and we do, generally, have an over-active “what-if monkey” imagination. Do you make eye contact? Where and how? The rules for eye contact are different in some cultures, but you know the rules where you are. Maybe not consciously, but you know them. So it becomes ‘how’ you make eye contact.A smile can show pleasure. It can show confidence. It can show a snotty superiority. But a big smile is the exact same facial expression as a grimace—what a chimp does when it is afraid—except for the eyes.So, do you make eye contact when you think someone with bad intent is approaching? Depends. When you make eye contact, do you pair it with the body language of a terrified monkey? Or the body language of a bored predator? Do you have any idea how you actually look?This is huge. Conflict Communications has the bones, all the underlying necessary structure. Logic of Violence gat people thinking and looking at the problem. Both programs increase your ability to communicate mindfully.But it takes practice and a level of self-awareness.I don’t have the skills, but I’m curious what a good acting coach could contribute in the realms of crisis communication and self-defense. Not acting as in faking, although there may be an element of that—but an actor’s job is to communicate consciously. To send a specific message with face, voice and body language.Intriguing.Tying it back, since I went off on a tangent.Everything depends on interplay. It succeeds or fails in the chaos of the Four Factors (You, Threat, Environment and Luck). Skill in isolation is almost unrelated (maybe 1:3 correlation) to effectiveness in application. That goes for physical skills and verbal skills and awareness skills (bad guys hide their intentions).Physically you must generate kinetic energy, get that energy to where it will do the most good, and make damn sure the bad guy is where you need him to be. Verbally, you must be able to make sure that the message received is the message you intended to send. Observationally, you must read the threat as well as signs of the threat's deception and signs of his or her skill at deception.Life is a moving target.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Morpheus, The Matrix
Kata is a form of training that divides the martial arts community. As martial artists our obvious focus is on paired activity, with its immediate feedback on our strengths and weaknesses and clear benefit for the development (and ‘measurement’) of fighting spirit, timing, reaction time, telegraph reading, distancing, power and speed. Against this the solo exercise of Kata on the surface seems to develop little that is not already worked by Kihon drills. Even amongst Karateka whose systems drill kata as a core syllabus requirement, there are experienced people who view them as no more than a traditional ‘chore’ to be trained for the purpose of passing gradings.
Kata can be studied and trained for many different reasons. What I’m discussing below are my thoughts on personal Kata training with a view to improving close quarter combative ability, rather than attempting to improve the look of the movements to conform to an aesthetic ideal, or using Kata as a vehicle for recovery and injury management after an accident.
When engaged in solo training you need to visualise your opponent(s). Visualisation is not necessarily the best term since it only implies seeing, whereas what we should be doing is imagining an event. See the attack, hear the attack, imagine how the impact feels on your body, how your movements affect the other person. You should try and build from your strengths into your weaknesses. Start with the strongest perceptual sense that you can recreate – be it sight, or sound, or touch, or smell – and create that memory. Each technique, each sequence should be practiced in context when training solo. Don’t do a move for the sake of a pre-determined sequence, you move to create an effect. Visualisation is not difficult, but it requires practice to become an effective training tool. One of the limitations of visualisation is that it generally requires experience. What I mean by this is that to effectively create a memory and reinforce that memory you need to have had real experience of the physical practice of elements of that training. For example it would be difficult to recreate an arm bar in the mind (even if doing the physical movement concurrently) if you do not have the visual and tactile framework of reference of applying the technique.
This is controversial. I recently had a long conversation over some liquid refreshment with a friend in the early hours of a morning about conflict management. He was convinced that his past training, in a martial art which will remain nameless, enabled him to snap another person’s arm with a simple crossing of his arms, despite the fact he had never done this for real. In fact this seemed to be his solution to any form of violence against him. There is an issue between the disconnect between practicality and student gullibility when it comes to many of the ‘too deadly to spar’ techniques in martial arts. It is very easy to give a compliant training partner an unpleasant injury by applying a locking technique with too much force, too much speed, or a poor angle of attack. The reality of causing a fight ending injury against an actively resisting (and striking) opponent under pressure in an adrenaline fueled environment can be very different. You will get good at what you train for, and if you want to get good at striking or grappling, you need to get your hands dirty and work those physical skills. Tactile memory is vital for building accurate and useful visualisation skills.
Speed is a variable, not a constant. Work slowly as you create your visualisation. When it is strong in your mind, you can move fast, but there is little pressing need to move fast when you are creating such important pathways in your mind to reinforce appropriate behaviour. If you run before you can walk here you will begin to dance rather than shadow box. One further aspect of slow speed training with regard to visualisation is that many people experience ‘slow time’ under the influence of high adrenaline levels. Time does not actually slow down, it is merely a perceptual distortion, just like ‘fast time’. Given that this perception of slow time is relatively common in high stress encounters, rehearsing in slow time and imagining things in slow time can actually help make the rehearsal more beneficial. Training at high speed is an important part of training overall, but it should not characterise all your training. Speed can instead be used for the supplementary impact training on pads and bags, which in turn helps create tactile memory.
Treat Kata like an exercise book, not a short children’s book. People tend to want to do a Kata from start to finish, because that is how the memory of the movements is taught in class. When you train Kata solo, treat it like a school exercise book, working methodically on a page at a time rather than reading quickly from cover to cover like a simple picture story book for young children. Pick and choose exercises, and work on them. A single short exercise done for 5 minutes well is better than 3 rushed repetitions of a whole Kata. This is a crucial element of good quality solo Karate training. Too often people feel that they need to set aside 30 minutes or an hour to train properly, or that they need to sweat buckets and elevate their heart rate. I do not dispute the value of longer periods of aerobic training, but for many people it can be difficult to fit these regularly into their daily lives. Furthermore, the key benefits of such training are the development of the grit to carry on and the aerobic capacity to sustain a fight. I would suggest that these qualities do not necessarily have to be developed through Karate practice, and that in many cases running/rowing or swimming could have similarly beneficial effects (and be easier to do). Returning to the concept of short periods of training, the vast majority of people cannot effectively focus intently for more than 20 minutes at a time, so training for short periods of time is not necessarily a bad thing. A focused five minutes can not only have greater value, but also be easier to fit into a daily routine.
In class each Kata performed as a whole takes up a fairly large amount of space in a particular shape. The advantage of breaking down the Kata to focus on small sequences (as described above) is that far less space is required, which in turn makes it easier to find a moment to practice. Combinations can often involve little more than a shuffle in terms of footwork and can be practiced in an area smaller than 1m squared. More complicated applications that involve moving and changing direction can be done in areas of 1m by 2m. The recognition that less space is required may seem to be common sense, but it brings with it (as does working for smaller amounts of time) a greater freedom to practice. Visualisation training with Kata does mean that space and movement can be unnecessary, and indeed studies have shown that even the muscles (as opposed to the mind) can gain a small benefit from visualisation without movement.
Kata as performed and learned in class is a generic model of techniques that hint at applications and tactics. Kata is often executed and taught as a group activity in the Dojo (students moving to a called count, or doing the same Kata at the same time) and as such is rather like a stretchy T shirt on a shop manikin. When you train at home you are wearing that T shirt, not the manikin, so it now conforms to your body. Essentially this means that while the fibers and colours that make up the Kata remain the same, the content is now free to vary. Your body has different strengths and weaknesses to that of the average Karateka, and so in solo practice you should allow your body to begin to shape your personal interpretation and application of the movements that make up that Kata. Through rigorous training you can shape your body to make that T shirt look good, but the T shirt ultimately conforms to you. Solo Kata should be your Kata.
There is a natural form of evolution to intensive, visualised solo Kata training that has to be accepted if the individual Karateka is to truly make a Kata their own. If a Kata is regularly broken down into individual exercises, trained according to visualised (and practised) application, technique preference, space and time, it will change. A movement trained by a class generically, but designed to suit an ‘original’ martial artist’s specific intention, will change as an individual adapts it for their own purpose and build. The student might happily practice a Kata that looks almost identical to those of the other students in class, but ask that student to perform the same Kata as they train it alone in front of the group, and the sequence, repetition and shape of many of the movements will have morphed. Taking this perspective into consideration the sheer number of the overlaps of sequences and subtle variations in movements between many of Karate’s Kata begin to make sense.
The question for the individual student is how far do they wish to go down the rabbit hole? Do they wish to explore further and in greater depth and see where their personal Kata leads them? Finally, from that stage of development and insight do they wish to save their personal Kata for themselves, teaching only as they were taught, or teach the revised material to their own students as others have done before them? The further the path of detailed individual Kata study is trod, the harder it becomes to use the older more established generic path. Both paths have value, but there’s only one way to discover which is actually the best for you.
I'd rather hurt you honestly
Than mislead you with a lie
"Sometimes When We Touch"
Following is a 'real' transcript of an 'actual' telephone conversation.
A1 PLUMBING: Hello, A1 plumbing. How may we help you?
CUSTOMER: My sink is clogged.
A1 PLUMBING: Clogged, you say?
CUSTOMER: Yes, clogged. Stopped up.
A1 PLUMBING: Have you tried tapping on the pipes?
CUSTOMER: Sorry, what?
A1 PLUMBING: The pipes, have you tried tapping on them? Tapping can help unclog the pipes.
CUSTOMER: I don't mean to sound rude, but have you been drinking?
A1 PLUMBING: No, I'm as sober as a judge. But, let me ask you something...did you ever take physics?
CUSTOMER: Sure, I took physics 101 in college.
A1 PLUMBING: Okay, remember how Einstein said that all matter is energy?
CUSTOMER: Sure, I remember that.
A1 PLUMBING: Well then.
CUSTOMER: Well then what?
A1 PLUMBING: Well then, all matter, including the matter of the pipes and what's in the pipes, which seems solid, is actually made up of vibrating energy. The plumbing is essentially a conduit of energy. The negativity in the pipes is caused by a disruption in the plumbing's energy system. What I am advising is EFT, which was designed to clear disruptions by focusing on the specific problem while tapping on the end points of energy meridians. EFT teaches us that the combination of kinetic energy straightens out the energy system and bypasses negativity.
CUSTOMER: I...uh...uh...I...er...don't know what to say. I've never even heard of EFT.
A1 PLUMBING: I understand. EFT, Emotional Freedom Techniques, is relatively new, developed in the 1990s, and it's such a paradigm shift that it hasn't spread to the general public. But people all over the world are starting to learn about this non-invasive method, and clogs are getting unclogged, blocks are becoming unblocked, and energy is being restored. You see, EFT clears out emotional debris.
CUSTOMER: So, I just tap on the pipes? That clears this "emotional debris"?
A1 PLUMBING: It's almost that easy. Really you'll be tapping on the meridian points, the points where the energy is most accessible. Tapping combined with positive affirmations helps to shift energies. It's part of the 'Language of Energy.'
CUSTOMER: But what do I say?
A1 PLUMBING: We recommend positive, soothing, forward thinking messages. "The passageways are becoming unclogged. Energy is being restored." That kind of thing.
CUSTOMER: So I just grab a wrench?
A1 PLUMBING: No special equipment is required. Your fingertips will do. Just lightly tap on the meridian points.
CUSTOMER: But, I'm having other plumbing problems. The clogged sink, the leak in the bathtub faucet, a lack of water pressure...
A1 PLUMBING: As EFT says, "Try it on Everything." If it doesn't work, you haven't lost a thing...and sometimes it's not that the techniques aren't working. Sometimes it's just that the core issue has not yet been uncovered, or an element of the original problem hasn't been resolved and that's what's holding the problem in place."
CUSTOMER: I don't need a plumber?
A1 PLUMBING: Using the services of a professional energy worker is always recommended, but people are discovering that they themselves have exactly what they need to work with their natural energy.
CUSTOMER: Is it guaranteed to work?
A1 PLUMBING: There's a small percentage of the population who will have pipes and plumbing systems that are so problematic, filled with too much negative energy, and the simple techniques available to the novice just won't do it.
CUSTOMER: So then you dispatch a plumber?
A1 PLUMBING: No, we may recommend different techniques or specifically scripted positive affirmations, and that usually does the trick.
CUSTOMER: But don't you lose money?
A1 PLUMBING: Well, we request donations. If our advice helps you, we suggest that you pay us what you feel our advice was worth.
CUSTOMER: Okay, I think I can do this. I'm gonna start tapping and speaking to the pipes.
A1 PLUMBING: Remember to speak in a positive, "It is already happening" and confident manner. The energy responds well to this positivity.
CUSTOMER: Great, thanks! By the way, do you know of any good roof repair specialists in the area?
You'd probably say this would just be ridiculous, nuts, downright silly.
Well then, I've got one you're really gonna like from the "People Actually Believe This" file. EFT--Emotional Freedom Techniques--which consists of accupressure-type techniques in which the practitioner taps various parts of the body, (and which, to me, resembles an old timey telgraph operator practicing his Morse Code skills), is being promoted all over the world as an alternative to or adjunct of Western medicine.
These tapping techniques are said to treat blocked energy, and practitioners will tap tap tap their armpit, their hand, and specific parts of their face.
I know, I know...sounds ludicrous, right? Well, go clean your pipes.
Location, location, location. How big of a space do you need? What kind of style and tone should you have for your professional martial arts school? Why simplicity is the best path. The horrible flood and how neighbors didn’t make a difference. Leases, short term, long term, Low rates, absentee landlords. Being poor, and being dirty.
Businesses use mission statement as a short hand. All of the employees come from different groups with different values and protocols. The mission statements and vision statements that organizations come up with are (subconsciously) trying to get their members to realize that when they are on the job, they are in a different tribe and these are the tribe's values. "Duty, Honor, Respect" at work... but "Love" should be in your home mores. You get the idea.
Yesterday, I wrote:
in this place and time and for my purposes and definition of best, etc*.
This might be the bones of a mission statement. Might help explain the important differences. So here's a stab at explaining those thirteen words.
In this place and time: Dealing with the threat and environment that exists. For civilians, training with respect to current law, who the student is (as a victim profile), weapons availability and actual criminal predation patterns.
This is, for me, one of the big differences between SD and MA. Martial arts is partially about preserving a method, a set of mores. Many instructors start by teaching escapes from a wrist grab--- because 130 years ago, in Japan, it was the most important self-defense technique for one strata of society. The koryu mindfully preserve cultural artifacts. Far too often the gendai arts preserve artifacts mindlessly.
And place and time changes. The situation is different in the jail, at home, traveling, in Iraq or competing. Competition is the easiest because it has the fewest variables. Not the easiest to do--grasp that. Because you can set the variables you can set competition right at the edge of what the contestants can handle. But by far the simplest to train for.
For my purposes: Changes by student profile. But the essence is this: I don't want the three a.m. phone call that Officer D is dead, and I hate visiting people in hospital. For pure SD students with no experience, I want them to be able to recognize and avoid a situation if possible; if not have the tools to survive an ambush; and get a leg up on dealing with the chaos of a bad situation. I need them to be adaptable enough to deal with a situation where they cannot know the parameters in advance. For experienced martial artists studying violence, they already have good physical skills. Any athlete has good physical skills. They need to know where those skills fit, what they will face, where their training has created false expectations. They need to know context. This is my biggest group. For force professionals, they need to be able to adapt to situations where they cannot know the parameters in advance and they must be able to integrate all of their resources (and know when, due to space or time, their options are limited) and adapt. And that has to be taught in very limited amounts of time. This is the group that is most precious to me.
My definition of best: The most important metric is maximum adaptability with minimum training time.
Measuring anything this chaotic is tricky, but that's the best I can do. And it works when you set it as a goal. Best example is the lock training. I consistently get untrained people improvising joint locks under light pressure in an hour. They don't know the name of a single lock and couldn't pass the lock portion of a traditional JJ yellow belt test, but they can find a lock, including some exotic ones, in a brawl, something many blackbelts can't do. I think that's more important, hence 'my definition of best.' And the biggest gains in efficiency don't seem to come from adding skill, bur from removing constraints. Still working on the implications of that.
Lots of differences between the instructors, and that's what I wanted to talk about.
Got to play with Kelly Sunday morning. He was teaching single stick as it relates to empty hands and he was kind enough to play with me between the lessons. Almost everything he did was different and sometimes contrary to the way I teach and think. Pattern, timing and rhythm. He gives them as a platform to build from, I treat them as an addiction and distraction to be avoided. Kelly could take the concept of timing and tie it three dimensionally, not just to rhythm but to pitch, and that gives you an entire extra dimension in which to manipulate the opponent.
We teach differently. We think differently. And both ways work.
As different as the paths of learning, the movement in students isn't that different. Some differences. For instance Kelly likes a little more distance than I do and his preferred point of action is in the limbs and mine tends to be in the core. But the essence-- the NSI guys can strike, throw, lock, grapple and incorporate weapons. It's all integrated. The faster things come, the more they adapt. And everyone is having fun. When people giggle when they get hit, you have a good school.
I only got two sessions with Leonard Trigg and didn't get to cross hands. I'm usually resistant to calling people (and very resistant to being called) master or professor or sifu. (Less resistant to sensei, since I came up in those systems and early habits are harder to break). But Trigg is one of those guys that you look at and get a feeling that a name isn't enough. You feel that there should be a title.
Quiet, incredibly self-efacing. Soft spoken enough that everyone goes silent when he talks. And tough. Moves flawlessly, hits hard. The professor taught a sequence in steps. Within that sequence were offense, defense, shutdowns, target preps and transitions. Everyone got it. No child left behind. And I saw several people spontaneously using pieces of the sequence later in more random play.
I learned very little about Professor Trigg's thought process. Two shy people tend not to make deep conversations on the first meeting. But his teaching method was very different from mine. And it worked.
People get tribal, and I have to watch for this in myself. Water and Steel was an opportunity to see a whole bunch of excellent things that were different. Challenge myself. I do believe I'm working on a superior training methodology (in this place and time and for my purposes and definition of best, etc*.) If I saw something better I'd be doing that. But it's good to get a solid reminder is that there is no 'one right way' that there are a million ways to be excellent and to create excellent students. And a lot of those methods will be better for many people than my methods.
That's what diversity is all about.
Kelly, Professor Trigg-- Thank you. It was a genuine pleasure.
* That might be a blog post tomorrow.
And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
I proudly state that I am a "Leaper," a "Farmer," a disciple of the Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus). Our group meets at the Jackson Room of the local Airport Holiday Inn each Sunday morning in honor of the sun and its life-giving energy. We gather together, sitting in a circle of folding chairs. We hold hands during the recitation of the Glorious Story of Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus), and then we share our own individual experiences of how our lives have been changed as a result of our connection to the transformative power that the Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus) brings.
Sometimes I feel like I know what ancient martyrs went through. You see, the townspeople do not approve of our beliefs. They mock us, call us "lepers," point fingers at us, gossip about us, and shun us at local markets and restaurants. But we stand firm in our beliefs and do our best to share our experience with others, show them the way to the Garden.
The Glorious Story of Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus), warned us of what we could expect from the hunters and hungry wolves of this forest (the world). We know that the never-satiated fanged beasts of the forest want our energy and are bent on our destruction. But Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus) blesses us with stillness of heart in the face of adversity. When stillness is challenged, we also reap the benefit of having quick, agile minds to outdistance and outmaneuver our enemies.
Some, such as the PURL group, Progressive Universal Reformed Leporum, believe that it is the spirit and qualities of a symbolic lepus which is our source of inspiration. But I disagree completely. The ancient and Glorious Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus), was an actual creature who existed on the plains of Europe in the time when the Hunter (mankind) first entered the Forest.
There is clear evidence of the existence of the Glorious Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus). Statues, engravings, and primitive paintings all provide valid and historical proof of Her existence. And we know, from our own personal experiences, that we Hunters, each of us, no matter how beastly, can be changed, transformed from simple, ugly beasts to caring, considerate stewards of the Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus), and become Farmers in her Garden. We know too that the late-comers, the interlopers, those heathen believers who worship the so-called 'divine man', also acknowledge the importance of the vernal equinox and their all-important glorification of "Easter."
In fact history itself is the story of how beastly, primitive, ignorant Hunters of the Forest became Farmers and stewards of the Garden. And yet, in spite of this clear evidence, there are many who don't believe. There are many who refuse to accept the Truth.
They may have a small taste of the truth, a "nibble of a radish" as we say, but not the whole Garden of Truth. Our challenge is to help each Beast, each Hunter, enter into and feed upon the wondrous bounty of the Garden.
I was once a Hunter. I don't mind divulging that fact. It is important to admit that I too once hungered like a beast, traveled in a pack, refused to acknowledge the majesty, power and bountiful grace of Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus). But one Spring day, as I left a forest trail and entered into a field of flowers, the rays of the Sun warmed my face, lifted my spirits from the darkness, helped me see, truly see, the glorious beauty of a nearby garden. There, just beyond the fence, feeding on some leafy cabbages, was the Lepus. She almost blended into the rich dirt of the garden, but I saw her standing tall, her majestic ears pointing to the Sun. She stopped her meal and stared directly at me, stared into my heart. Still as a statue she continued to stare.
Oh sure, I know what you're thinking. It was just a common rabbit. No big deal, I've seen a million of them. But this was no ordinary rabbit. This was a vision of Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus) herself! As she continued to stare, I could sense her message to me, and to me only. "Stop your murderous ways," she said, "and look upon the bounty of this garden. Lay down your shotgun and pick up a garden hoe. Leave behind you the life of the miserable, hungry Hunter and learn the way of the Farmer."
We stayed like this for what seemed like hours, though in reality it probably lasted for only a minute. I experienced peace and insight, and felt like, and please don't laugh, but I felt like leaping and frolicking and bouncing around that field of flowers. I ran and laughed. I jumped and fell to the ground and gathered flowers about me. I lay down in that field of flowers and I looked at the nourishing Sun. I committed right then and right there to become a "Leaper" and learn the ways of the "Farmer."
Now I share my joy with others and tell my story to any who will listen. I walk among the Beasts, the hungry Hunters, and I sense their misery. I know that they move with anger that comes from hunger. I tell them, all who will allow me 2 seconds, "Leave the Forest!" Most push me aside, move on with a snarl or a growl, some even spit upon me. But some will be quickened by my words and ask me to explain. For them I share the Truth, "Leave the Forest, you Hunter, you Beast! Walk out of the darkness and enter the Sunshine. Come to the Garden so full of color, so rich with bounty. Leave behind you your Beastly ways! Leave the pack and open the Gate to the Garden!"
A few, a rare few, will yearn for the Sunshine of the Garden and want desperately to give up the dampness and the darkness of the Forest, the place of mold and rot and death. These few, these precious few, will come with me on a Sunday morning and hold hands in our circle, round like the Sun, and learn the story of Ostara Lepus (all Hail, Leaping Lepus). Even then, after hearing the story, some will return to the Forest.
But a few, a select few, will leave behind the life of the Hunter and accept the life of the Farmer.
So when I say to you, "leave the Forest," please don't turn and walk away. Come with me. Let us open the Gates to the Garden and leap into the warmth of the Sun.
All Hail, Leaping Lepus!
Reflexes can be a tricky term when discussing martial arts and fighting as a large number of martial artists do not distinguish between actions that are under their conscious control and actions that are not, or responses that are learned and responses that are not. A reflex action, also known as a reflex, is an involuntary and nearly instantaneous movement in response to a stimulus. If we automatically use a trained response without thinking (such as a parry) in response to a stimuli we might describe it as reflexive, but a true reflex is a behaviour that is mediated via a reflex arc, a neural pathway that controls an action reflex.
When you go to the doctor and have a medical and he/she taps your knee with a hammer and your leg twitches, that is an example of a somatic reflex arc (affecting muscles). When your tongue is depressed and you gag – that too is a reflex. You are not consciously controlling it and you cannot stop it. Do we have similar reflexes applicable to combat? The answer is yes. A working knowledge of withdrawal reflexes and tendon reflexes can improve our combative ability. I’d like to briefly look at something that is the combined result of a number of different withdrawal reflexes, the ‘flinch reflex’.
The body has autonomic mechanisms to protect itself from injury and given the right stimuli, your flinch reflex will kick in. You eyes will shut briefly and your hands and forearms will attempt first to move to cover the head (or perceived area of vulnerability) and second to push away danger
I use the term ‘right stimuli’ here because the body only flinches when the brain consciously or unconsciously perceives danger. You might note that after you have been training for a while you rarely flinch in sparring or hardly ever see flinching in the ring. This is because your brain recognises the telegraphs of the techniques and moves into a trained response – it is when you don’t spot the telegraph in time for the brain to consciously or unconsciously activate a trained appropriate response that you are startled and as a result you flinch. A simple analogy is that most of us can catch a tennis ball with one or two hands: the more time we have to prepare for catching a ball coming towards us and can see its arc the more likely we are to catch it. If however someone were to shout “look out” and on turning our head we were to see a ball flying straight for our face, depending upon our skill level, the speed of the incoming object, and our reaction time, we would do one of the following:
- Scrunch our face up to brace for impact and shut our eyes
- The above while turning the head away as much as we can
- The above while covering the head with the hands and ducking away from the object
- Turning slightly but also pushing out with nearest hand while the other covers the face
- Intercepting the object with a previously trained skill
A person just off the line of flight of this bat with sufficient observation and reaction time to apparently access the complex motor skill of catching, but even he’s flinching.Dealing with attacks, whether in a competitive consensual fight, or a surprise attack or an escalated argument is no different. If you do not spot the telegraphs then your reaction is likely to be at the top of the list above, the earlier you see and recognise the telegraphs (not necessarily on a conscious level) the further down that list your response will be, particularly if you already have your hands in front of your face or body.
The less familiar you are with the telegraphs and the environment, the less likely you are to access a trained response. If you are unused to dealing with verbal aggression or the stimulus of multiple people moving and not knowing which one is likely to attack, then your brain will be more occupied with this along with ‘fight/don’t fight’ questions. As a result of this extra neural engagement you may be less likely to spot telegraphs that you would have identified with ease in a ‘cleaner’ competitive environment. The net result is that you are more likely to flinch.
Hands coming up so fast he drops his drink… but can you spot which common ‘uke’ technique is instinctive?
The good news is that you do not need to train the flinch – it is built in. The bad news is that if you are spending time working other more complicated methods of intercepting attacks then in the one instance when you will truly need them, when you are caught off guard by the ease of the attack (entry angle of attack, attitude of the attacker, speed of the attack and the environment in which the attack takes place), you’ve spent a large amount of your time honing a fairly redundant skill because you will flinch rather than perform that complex motor skill.
Now if there are movements in Kata that mimic the flinch – will practicing them improve your ability to flinch? No. Practicing them will improve your ability to fight because following the ‘fake’ flinch in the Kata you move from that position into a combative application. Thus what Kata can do is help you make a transition from a natural protective movement into a trained combative movement so fast that it seems reflexive.
This could be one of the most important things that Kata gives us. There are clear differences between the movements in sparring and those in Kata, and the key to those differences is that both are reflections of differing scenario and attack specific skill sets. The environment of the sparring and sport arena make redundant the employment of natural movements that the body will use in a ‘real’ arena (and if you’ve pulled off your sport techniques in that arena then either you hit first or the other guy telegraphed his intentions so clearly or attacked so weakly the ease of the attack was incredibly familiar and did not stretch you out of your comfort zone). Kata by contrast often mimics (though now in stylised form) the flinch and then practices moving from that to a combative strike. If you look at the extended arm set up common in various versions of kata for all of Karate’s receiving techniques – Age Uke, Shuto Uke, Uchi Uke, Gedan Barai and so forth you can see a protective motion to ward away danger and in many cases a hand attempting to shield the head.
In Karate Do Kyohan Funakoshi said that Kakewake Uke could be done palms open or closed, hands facing towards you or away. Does this look familiar?
If we are to make Kata a reflexive exercise then we need to be able to use its initiation point in reflex based techniques. As a result we need to mimic the flinch. To train the almost-reflexive movement from a flinch to a combative counter the Kata training needs to be paired. All the Kata drills I use initiate from either a flinch based movement against a habitual act of violence, a ‘failed’ Kata attacking/controlling movement following a flinch based movement, or a common mid fight redundancy position such as a clinch. As a result back in 2004 with the Heian Flow System I created an extensive Kata based sparring repertoire where techniques fitted together like lego and students began to unconsciously shift between techniques and strategies according to stimuli.
My current work on the Pinan and Heian Kata takes this a step further with the benefit of the experience of heavy contact scenario simulation training and hours of footage of watching how martial artists respond in such pressurised environments. When you consider how much time you’ve spent drilling your Kata solo, you may find it’s time you did them justice by taking them to the next level by experiencing their use as two man training systems. Paired Kata training might not look as beautiful as kumite or solo Kata, but it’s fun, it develops new skill sets, and it could prove to be the most useful element of your karate repertoire.
"Hello, everyone, and welcome to today's Master Malleus seminar. In the next few hours you are going to witness some remarkable things...things you might be tempted to put down to magic or miracles, but I assure you, it's nothing like that.
"What you will see however will be hard for me to explain to everyone's satisfaction. I will ask you to bear with me and forget what you know about science or what they taught you in high school or college biology. Forget what you may have learned in a first aid or health class.
"You will see people lose consciousness, which will look a lot like feinting. People will drop like bags of flour, knees buckling, bodies going limp. We will have spotters standing by to catch them before they hit the floor so they don't hurt themselves. We will then work quickly to revive them and bring them back from temporary unconsciousness.
"Each person who steps up to experience these techniques will be a volunteer. No one is obligated to participate, and each participant who volunteers must sign a release form. While no past participant has experienced any health problems as a result of these techniques, our solicitors have advised that the release form is not optional. Most of you have already filled out and signed the release form, and I will ask for those who will not be participating to move to the chairs around the perimeter of the matted area.
"Okay, if we could get our first volunteer up here. And, what is your name? Hi, Anthony, how are you? Great. Thanks for being our first volunteer. Now just to make sure, you have signed your release form, right? Good, good. Just checking. And you're in reasonably good health? Right? No immediate health problems? No head aches, or severe neck or back aches? Good, glad to hear it.
"Now here's what's going to happen. I'm going to take this rubber mallet, and I'm going to tap certain parts of your body. Here, you can hold it, inspect it. I won't hit you very hard with my mallet, just a light tap. Generally, for each volunteer, I will tap 2, 3, or, at most, 4 parts of your body with my rubber mallet. These are special parts of your body that are kinky areas. No, no, (laughing), not 'kinky' like you might think. What I'm talking about is like taking a garden hose, the kind you use to water your plants, flowing with cool, clear water, and bending it...and causing a kink and thus shutting the flow of water. You see, we all have 'energy' moving about our bodies like a whole system of garden hoses or plumbing pipes. Those pipes carry vital energy to each organ, each joint, each nerve in our bodies. This energy keeps us healthy, vibrant, alert and alive. When a part of that hose is bent, or kinked, the energy backs up, unable to flow.
"I don't have to tell you what happens then, do I? Okay, I'll tell you. You'll start out by feeling not quite yourself. You may grow tired, or irritable or even sick. Long term problems can lead to problems, serious problems, even disease. If you don't water your plants, they'll turn colors, dry up and die, won't they? Same exact thing.
"My rubber mallet will actually cause a minor, temporary kink in your garden hose. The system is designed with certain redundancies, like an emergency back-up system, so I will cause kinks in several strategic parts of your garden hose. This will cause the energy to suddenly stop flowing.
"There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of these points on the body where you quite easily kink the garden hose. You may have bumped your elbow, what many people might call the 'funny bone.' When this happens, do you remember the tingling and numbness you felt? Or when the doctor taps that little area right below your knee...remember how your lower leg and foot jump up? Those are kinky areas.
"You may feel a slight pressure, maybe some tingling or numbness. This numbness may last for a little while, even after you regain consciousness. You may be groggy, but rest assured we will revive you quickly. You'll be in no danger whatsoever when you are out. You won't remember a thing. It'll be like a short nap.
"Okay, Andrew, wasn't it? I'm sorry, Anthony, okay now I'm going to tap 3 areas on your body. This first kinky point is just below your right wrist. I call it Kinky 33. Then quickly I will tap Kinky 47, the area near the base of your right bicep. Immediately, without pausing, I will then tap Kinky 2, the area at the base of your neck, just a few inches up from your clavicle or collar bone. I'll go tap, tap, tap, here, here, and here. You will then be out, like a light. The energy flow through your arm, like water through a garden hose, will kink, and the water, the energy, will shut down.
"Are you ready? Don't be scared. You are safe. You are in no danger. You're going to take a tiny little nap...just a short nap. That'll feel good, won't it? Okay, spotters? Are you ready to catch Albert? Sorry, Anthony. Great. Okay, here we go. It's malleus time!
"Tap, tap, tap! Catch Him! Good, let Alfred down slowly. Don't bump his head. Now, these special massage techniques will unkink the garden hose. The water, the energy, can now flow through the garden hose. The kinks have been removed.
"Now, Aaron, if you're feeling steady enough, you may stand up. Sure, that's normal...a little queasiness. Your Kinky 2 was already a little kinky...I could sense that while I was talking to you.
"There you go, on your feet. Give Abraham a big hand! See, it doesn't hurt, doesn't hurt at all. In fact, it feels pretty good...it's just a short nap. You'll actually feel refreshed when you wake up. Remember too that we'll be selling our official Malleus-Brand rubber mallets and Kinky DVDs after the seminar. You'll have a chance to purchase the entire It's Malleus Time DVD series, and you can purchase a poster showing the body's kinky points, all 213 of them! Also don't forget to sign up for the instructor program, where you'll learn to conduct your own kinky seminars.
"Okay, next up. And what's your name? Hi Linda, er, what's that? I mean Libby. Okay, did you sign your release form?..."
I suppose it is possible to practice a kata and not think at all about its application, but that’s never been an approach that’s appealed to me. As a result through analysis and experience I’ve gathered quite a lot of applications for individual karate techniques and combinations over time.
Almost a decade ago I drew a number of my then favourite applications together into the Heian Flow System, and three years later I published the majority of those Heian drills to share with others. Nine years is not that long a period of time in training terms, and yet to me the environment in which I now write and train seems very different.
When I first wrote the Heian Flow System the concept that kata might be focused on HAOV, or involve close range grappling and throwing did not seem to be mainstream. While perhaps still not the most common approach, these views, espoused in recorded sources by significant figures in Karate history such as Itosu, Mabuni and Funakoshi, are now reflected in research and good quality bunkai material emerging from Europe, the UK, North America and Australia.
At the same time it would be an understatement to say that the adoption of high quality body armour and the ability to safely run force on force simulations of real violence has not had an effect on the continued development of my own perception and interpretation of Kata. As a result, while adhering to the same principles, if you compare my favoured bunkai for a movement in 2013 to that in 2004, the two are likely to be quite different.
With this in mind I made the decision a while back to put together some more material on the Pinan/Heian kata to share with people who haven’t had the opportunity to train with me at a seminar. Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to make decisions on which bunkai drills to include, and that’s been an excellent excuse to do more training while I make up my mind.
The training has formed an interesting pattern: perform the solo kata as an aide memoire, work through all the kata bunkai drills in sequential order as best as we can in paired training, revise with the solo kata, then repeat with the next form. It’s been… beautiful. For me it’s almost the perfect way to train the kata, and almost the perfect session.
The problem is, as a regular format for training, it’s missing a few things.
I want impact. I’m not really hitting my partner because then he wouldn’t train with me, so I’m doing the moves in the paired drills with just enough force to move and unbalance him, but not enough to seriously hurt or injure him. Neither of us therefore are working our ability to make solid contact.
Because I’m not trying to hurt my partner with my applications, I’m not really working on developing speed. We could do the solo Kata really fast, but that works our ability to move fast against no resistance, which isn’t the same thing. It also makes it hard to properly visualise intent without breaking out of ‘proper’ form. Obviously my partner punches, pushes, headbutts or grabs me fast, and I have to move fast to cover. But my response technique is pulled.
We could pop the Spartan Training Gear body armour on and increase our contact, but then realistically we’d need to lose the Gi for the amount of contact and body armour we are wearing (to avoid heat exhaustion and to have optimum mobility). That’s not an issue for me, but it might make someone watching us through a window not realize we’re doing karate – because if you were to see close range striking, trapping, locking and throwing in response to HAOV would karate be your first thought?
A cheaper solution is to do the techniques against appropriate pads. Now we can work our speed, distancing and contact without fear of hurting our partner. It may not have the mobility or contextual realism of the armoured training, but we can hit harder and faster and improve our technique.
So the use of pads and armour was what was missing?
In two and a half hours I performed each of the five Pinan kata twice and my training partner and I each did one repetition of each application drill that I have decided to share. If I’d been less ambitious and picked a single kata with its drills, run through it as a solo aide memoire, donned armour and drilled the bunkai with moderate impact, then isolated the striking techniques and worked them against pads, then revised with a solo performance of the same kata, I reckon I could have ninety minutes of well balanced training. The perfect kata lesson.
Wait a second, was that kata, kumite and kihon?
Oh well. If it works…
"You've faced the truth about yourself. You've done what you had to do to kill your nagging pipe dreams. Oh, I know it knocks you cold. But only for a minute. Then you see it was the only possible way to peace."
Hickey, The Iceman Cometh
There are those who will tell you that martial arts consists primarily of two schools, based on two types of strength, and they may try and convince you that the Yin Yang design symbolizes those two types of strength--external and internal.
They'll tell you that the external guys are all about muscle--physical movement, striking, power, brute force. Boxers, kick-boxers, and most grapplers, they'll say, fall into the external school of martial arts.
They will often say these things in such a way to try and convince you that this external side of the martial arts is base or inferior.
Then they will try and convince you that there is another, perhaps superior, type of strength...one that comes from deep inside. A source of strength that is generated by universal forces and that flows within us all, although only a few have learned to harness this force.
They may lead you to believe that this source of strength, although limitless and capable of providing 'energy' that can either hurt or heal depending on the circumstances one faces, is known to only a few. Some will tell you that it is only available to those who carefully follow unique, lengthy, and often bizarre training methods or to those who use special proprietary salves or ointments or oils which contain secret ingredients.
To demonstrate this power they might ask a volunteer to try to bend their arm at the elbow, or to try and push them while they are standing or seated which would result in a lot of work on your part but without much success. The arm won't bend. They will remain rooted in place no matter how hard the volunteer shoves.
Though they won't show you any practical application for it, they may demonstrate their 'lightness' by balancing on the rim of a basket or perform some other exotic feat.
In some cases they will take someone from the audience, usually their own student, and they will knock them out or propel them across the room with just a light touch or a series of light blows. Sometimes, as if by magic, they will get the same effect without even making physical contact. In fact they might be inches or even feet away when they knock someone out or cause them to fall on the floor.
They may seem to imply that the laws of physics don't apply to them; that somehow they have transcended normal physical laws by tapping into 'chi', 'ki' or 'energy'.
What they will not tell you is that it is all part of what famous skeptic and the bane of hucksters and con-men, James "The Amazing" Randi, referred to as 'flim flam.' It is mostly just stunts, misdirection, stage magic, or parlor tricks. In some cases the proponents of this inner strength are simply using the type of suggestion that a stage hypnotist uses. Worse, some may use confederates who pretend that a punch is forceful or pretend that they are straining against an immovable object.
I have met many such practitioners. A gung fu master in Germany, a Tai Chi master from Tennessee, a Hsing-I practitioner from Florida, a BaGua artist from California, a master who 'heals' private celebrity clients, another who can diagnose and heal others all with no input at all from the person who has an ailment such as stress or headaches or body aches. I have watched them hit phone books held in front of the chests of willing volunteers which cause the volunteer much acute pain and breathlessness. I saw several people who lined up so their chests made contact with the person's back in front of them, and then I watched as the master struck the first person and caused, say, the 3rd or 4th person to go into a convulsive fit due to the transfer of chi.
I have watched them break a brick with a vibrating palm. I have seen them cause others to move, or feint or gyrate as a result of their control of the invisible force which they claim, (sounding like a Jedi master from Star Wars), permeates all things.
I have listened to their 'explanations,' which often contain gibberish, nonsense or pseudo-scientific verbiage. Quantum this or quantum that, they will say, as if terminology from cutting edge physics can be used out of context and in ways brilliant scientists never intended. I have heard them talk about 'vibrations at the cellular level' although none of them have peered through a microscope or studied biology.
Some offer no explanations at all, hinting that only through years and years of study will the 'truth' be revealed. A few will mock the concept of science, and have you believe that scientific researchers avoid facing the truth which they alone possess. Diseases could be healed, they'll claim, and people could live rich, vital, healthy lives, but doctors are in the pockets of 'big pharma' and work hard to keep a lid on the truth which they all know to be real.
Want evidence? They'll do another demonstration. Need proof? They'll say you need to 'experience' 'it' and stop questioning 'it'. Some of these guys will show you elaborate certificates which they claimed to have received from a master. I've even met a few who have claimed that they trained with a mysterious stranger.
Some have laughed at my skepticism. Mocked my almost 50 years of training in a variety of effective combative arts. My bad gung fu or my stupid style or my incompetent instructor. But they side step my questions. When I ask for a simple explanation of what goes on at the molecular level, when I ask for scientific, peer-reviewed studies, they change the subject, insult me, and double down.
The worst of the lot charge money for their services. For their healing or for their 'energy treatments.' They may charge money for classes or for instructor certification. These people often have the public fooled. The uninformed public, unaccustomed to false claims and pseudo-scientific explanations, often buy in to the master and his program.
In the era of MMA where people enter the cage and fight full contact, where the proof is in the pudding, where B.S. gets called to the carpet quickly and demonstrably, these guys will laugh at that training and act as if they have something far superior.
There are bona fide strongmen who can do amazing stunts. They can drive a nail with their palms, bend steel or perform other feats of strength, but let me tell you that those people are strong! They work hard developing their strength and most of them hit the gym and work their bodies beyond pain.
These internal guys don't train like that. They will pretend that they get strength via breathing or special diet or meditation. They will often claim to have a secret weapon that is far too dangerous to reveal to someone who has not earned to right to learn their special skills.
My advice? Avoid them. Stick with the guys who put up or shut up. The guys who can fight if they need to, the guys who are strong and tough because of honest sweat in the gym and the dojo.
Where there's smoke, the old adage goes, there's fire. But sometimes there's just smoke.
If I had one piece of advice for the physical aspects of self-defense, it would be two words. Move less.
Fighting is like marble sculpture. It isn't like painting or architecture. It is like sculpture. Because moving well has nothing to do with adding things. It is all about cutting things out. You make a sculpture out of a slab of marble by taking out all the rock that isn't the form. Sculpture is removal.
So is the art of good movement. Absolute efficiency is not having a millimeter of unnecessary motion. You don't defend if the strike is going to miss by a fraction of an inch. Your own strikes do not go through any unnecessary distance. Avoid decelerating to zero except with linear impact.
In sparring, there is a lot you can do with extraneous motion. You can fake, disguise your telegraphs, change your rhythm. But when you need to take someone out, for that matter, when you need to do anything quick, no extra motion.
And that's not how we teach it, usually. The good martial artist can do more stuff than the beginner. He can do the flashy moves. The TV martial artists-- Bruce Lee hitting bad guys who just stand there in rapid fire strikes, clearly five times as fast as the bad guys can move. Congratulations. Those are the skills you need to beat someone 1/5th your speed-- and, in case you missed it, if you have superspeed you don't need any skill. The best martial artists move more than the beginners.
And one of the side effects-- if the stakes go up, it becomes even more critical to move less. A knife coming at your belly has no margin of error. Bad things require maximum efficiency, not more cool moves.
The best fighters move less. The best fighter, the best athlete in any speed game, moves less than the second best. Not more.