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.”
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.