The other day a respected friend of mine made an observation about the number of clubs, particularly the pyjama dancers (as I call them), advertising that they were teaching self defence, when at best all they were doing was giving their students fighting skills.
It’s not an uncommon gripe amongst the instructors I train and talk with, both here in the UK and abroad. They know that when people are looking for ‘self defence’, actually the majority of what they really need isn’t physical skills; it’s greater knowledge to help them avoid, deter or de-escalate situations and the attributes to help them deal not only with events but their aftermath. These are things that are hard to find in most martial arts or RBSD syllabi, even harder to find taught well, and of course difficult to fit into an activity which for many is their main form of physical exercise – they expect physical training.
So are these people being conned when they believe they are learning self defence?
This does beg the question whether avoidance, deterrence, de-escalation and physical controls are actually self defence or related skill sets.
Your linguistic umbrellas may not be the same as those used by others.
If you use physical force to cause harm to another person and you have to justify it to either avoid charges regarding to the use of force, or to defend yourself against such charges, then you would claim ‘self defence’. The legal basis for this does vary from country to country, and anyone claiming to teach self defence should be aware of their own localities laws and be able to provide or direct students towards advice (which in turn should frame the physical training). As an example, although I provide information in my syllabi, I also direct my England-based students here.
I label what I teach under the broad brush of self protection, which for me includes personal safety (avoidance/deterrence), conflict management (verbal strategies and physical controls), and self defence (employment of fighting skills). After all, if I have to justify the use of force in a Police interview or Court of Law I will do so claiming self defence based on my honest belief as to the threat posed.
Since self defence is the term by which the justifiable use of force is known, and the most common lay terminology, it is also the term that you are most likely to see people (accurately) using to describe the physical skills they (maybe far less accurately or delusionary) believe are appropriate for dealing with people attempting to hurt them. As the majority of tested techniques are used in combative sports, these are also likely to be ‘fighting skills’.
So from a different perspective fighting skills are actually the main part of self defence, but self defence is really just a small part of self protection, and what most people looking for self defence really need is advice on personal safety and conflict management for the prevention of crime.
Does this solve the problem of the representation of self defence? People aren’t going to look for what they don’t know they need, they will search for what they believe they need. That’s why the use of the term self defence is still important.
It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid…
It’s the season to be jolly, or is it? Most Leisure Centres shut down for a number of days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and even if they aren’t people are often so tied up with family gatherings and other social events that they can’t make any martial arts classes that are still running.
Are you dreading the physical toll of a dearth of training combined with a number of days of feasting?
I’m not going to advise going easy on the food. Whether you are hosting, a guest, or celebrating on your own, everywhere you look there will be the temptation to eat. If it’s there, make the most of it. It’s only for a short time and a few light-eating days will balance things out. Occasional excess is not the same as sustained excess.
I suspect more people are worried about not having the physical exertion and stress relief valve that training provides.
Without a class you are limited, but not that limited. You just have to work within the confines of the time and space you have and switch to a daily routine if you don’t already have one.
My first tip is start early, before breakfast if you can. That moment between waking and joining others is one of the few parts of the day in which you are likely to still maintain a degree of control. Once you start to eat however other jobs, other activities and the food in your stomach (not to mention any alcohol later) are likely to scupper the best-laid plans.
My second tip is keep it indoors. Poor light, poor weather and the objections of others may stop you training otherwise. Indoor training does not necessarily require much space. If you can stand in straddle stance then you can do squats, you can practice hip-work by shifting foot positions, and you can kick on the spot (working balance, flexibility, coordination and strength). If you have more space you can drop and do any number of different forms of press-ups.
My final tip is to keep it simple. The more you set yourself, the more daunting it will seem, the more likely you are to skip it. Choose one or two exercises for strength and one or two for technique refinement. When I am short of space I tend to do push ups, squats, slow side thrust kicks and either one of my own forms or the space saving Tekki/Naihanchi Shodan.
Have a great holiday, and keep training!
In poker, you can play the cards, the opponent, or the table. Same in life. Or fighting. Or whatever.
Playing the cards. There are four suits and thirteen of each type of card in a deck. If you have four cards that make a straight, the odds of getting one of the cards that will end it is slightly higher than 2/13. Trying to fill an inside straight? 1/13. Need one card for your flush? Instinct says it should be a 1/4 chance of drawing the right card, but you already have 4 of the 13 cards in your suit, so 9/52.
The life or fighting equivalent is playing from your own skillset. To go into a situation, counting solely on what you know, ignoring other information.
Playing the opponent. In poker this is reading tells, getting to know the other players so well that you can read how strong their hands are. You can read what they desire and what they fear. You can read the draw (a draw of 2 cars in 5-card draw usually indicates they are holding three of a kind, for example).
The fighting equivalent. From Maija Soderholm I got exposed to the late Sonny Umpad's exhortation to first learn to read your enemy, then learn to write him. This one is deep. It ranges from simply feinting to gather information or to draw a response; to getting so far inside a threat's head that you are effectively gas lighting the threat. You can control not only what they perceive, but how they interpret their own perception and whether they can trust their own perception.
Same in life. If you understand people and can read them, you can use those insights to manipulate them. You can control the game. A lot of people glitch on this. "Manipulate" has negative connotations in current usage. But really, manipulation is just acting with skill. I'd rather have good people be skillful than not.
Playing the table. Too many people who play cards just play their own. In stud, you can calculate how the cards showing change your odds. Need a jack? 1/13 chance... but if two jacks are showing, it's now 1/26. If all of the fives and tens are showing, you'll never fill any straight. (note: in this post I'm not talking about Hold 'em. Talking about what my dad would call "real poker"-- draw and stud.)
To me, in fighting, playing the tables working all the auxiliary stuff-- environmental fighting, accessing social possibilities. The asymmetrical battle of bringing in the law or HR when it suits you.
Tying it back to game theory. To be successful you have to know yourself. Your mind, your resources (including skills) your goals and your parameters. You also need enough empathy to get into your opponent's head and discern the same things from the other point of view. To approach expertise in the subject, you have to understand how all of the seemingly extraneous stuff interrelates-- the social dynamics, environment, physical and communication skills... the whole bit.
Why do you train? What could you train for? What should you train for?
Across my clubs and those that are affiliated to me, we use the phrase training for life.
I focus on orientating my training towards self defence. There are compromises because in one of the systems I teach that means ordering things with regard to the traditional order of its kata, and some things I train are drills to illustrate principles rather than self defence per se (although these develop good understanding of biomechanics, which in turn increase your odds on delivering applications, which in turn assists effective physical self defence).
The reality however is the majority of self defence is not physical, and in practice I cover this through verbal presentation, examined material in the syllabus, advice on published reading material by other people, and my Sim Days. A further reality is that given the overall low prevalence of violent crime, the type of students I attract, and the training I give my students, the odds on them ever having to put the physical training into practice are very low.
But self defence isn’t the only thing I mean by saying training for life.
Most people face far greater health risks from physical inactivity or poorly trained physical activity than they do from violent crime.
Training for life is about providing good quality training that improves people’s health. The martial arts have not always enjoyed a good reputation when it comes to this.
While there are a number of long-lived martial arts practitioners, there’s no conclusive evidence to indicate that their longevity was the direct result of their training. In karate this is particularly problematic as the Okinawan population is generally quite long-lived.
There has been a generation of long term practitioners of martial arts in the west, particularly in Japanese Karate systems, who through a likely combination of genetic factors and inappropriate training have left the martial arts or required surgery to knees and / or hips to attempt to repair the damage that their training has done. There are still instructors out there demonstrating the same poor stances and mobility practices that will cause injury, many of whom run large clubs or associations.
Martial arts training should be challenging, but that does not excuse sloppy approaches to injury risk management. People come to a class to get fitter, stronger, more flexible, more mobile, to focus aggression in a safe manner etc. – they do not come to get injured. In any physical activity there are risks of injury, but injury should never be accepted as a normal thing: usually it means that someone has made a mistake, or the student has over-estimated their capability and not been reigned in by the instructor, or the instructor has pushed the student further than they should. This is not training for life. I take it personally whenever we get an injury of any kind in my classes or seminars, whether it’s a badly strained muscle or a cut knuckle, because I want to see if it was preventable, because its not why people come to train. I’m not wrapping my students in cotton wool; to be effective they have to experience pain and physical and psychological discomfort, but they don’t have to experience injury. From warm up through to warm down (and I’ve experienced some shocking injury causing warm ups in recent years by instructors young enough to know better) and training advice for home training, our methods need to be professional, up to date, and appropriate.
Training methods must be appropriate to the health and abilities of participants and take on board good practice and information from other physical disciplines. Where contact is used (and I believe it should be used on a very regular basis) its purpose should be understood and its intensity adjusted according to the needs of the trainee. Head contact in training should be carefully managed and minimised to strike the balance between the head being the most commonly injured part of the body in violent crime (and thus the need to practise attacking and defending it with correct distancing and commitment) and the need to protect the brain from long term damage. This does not mean ‘going soft’, but neither does it mean that a ‘good session’ should leave you drenched in sweat or moving in pain for the next week. As I have written before, fast training or exhaustive training does not necessarily mean focused or good quality training.
Why do you train? How should you train?
Train for life.
Grossman popularized it, but he was quoting a Korea war vet. My dad was a vet from that era and he used it too, so it must have been in the air back then. But it has jack shit to do with the way most people use it.
The part of it that was true, and what my dad meant by it is that as a soldier, I had more in common with an enemy soldier that I do with the civilians we are protecting. Yes, we. Saddam's Republican Guard or the Wehrmacht or the 82nd Airborne... people were defending their homes, their people, their values. Sometimes expeditionary forces, sometimes home guard... but especially in the age of conscripts, a drafted US soldier in a third-world country he's never heard of and a conscripted kid from that third-world country actually have a lot in common. And more in common with each other than they ever will with citizens or, especially, their own generals and their own politicians.
More broadly, coal miners in Virginia and coal miners in China will have more in common with each other than they will with their own bosses or their own governments.
That, to my mind, was what the sheepdog metaphor was trying to convey.
But it's become something else. A badge people put on to feel superior. So let's walk out the modern interpretation.
Number one, there ain't no sheep. Humans are amazing predators. Tough, adaptable, capable of learning at a whole new level. It takes a metric shit-ton of brainwashing to convince children that they are supposed to be weak and that passivity is a virtue. That social conditioning has happened, and it has been successful, but it is not natural. If you want to look down your nose at anyone and think they are weak, that's your arrogance, not truth. If they find the right incentive and throw off their imaginary leashes, not only will the meekest person you know give you a fight, your will prevent you from seeing it coming.
And here's the big one (hat tip to Terry Trahan.) Sheepdogs aren't good guys. They don't work for the sheep. They work for the shepherd. They don't keep the sheep safe from the wolves because it is the right thing to do. They keep the sheep safe from the wolves so the shepherd can butcher them or shear them on a precise schedule for maximum profit.
Still feel like a hero, Mr. Sheepdog?
Two things in my mind, going opposite directions. You are not sheep. You are mighty. Your ancestors pretty much conquered the world at half your size and half your brain size and nowhere close to your access to information. With sticks and chipped rocks and opposable thumbs and communication and teamwork, humans spread. Humans became the apex predators on this planet. Almost all of the species we used to dread are now protected as endangered, a testament to both human power and human compassion. We, as humans, are anything but sheep.
Yet we are being treated like sheep. And we tolerate it and in many cases beg for more. Look at your paycheck. How much are you being fleeced for? How much of your productivity does the shepherd take? Did you consent? Did you negotiate?
Evil corporations? Oil company profit on a gallon of gas is roughly three cents. Taxes (state and federal, in my area) are 48 cents. Production, purification, delivery for three cents... regulation and control for 48. Which is the fleecing?
I know this is going to get some knickers in a twist. Do the math. Who provides the things you appreciate? Who pays for your labor? And who controls your behavior and siphons off from your labor? Who are the shepherds that are sheering you? Who has (and to what extent do you give them) the power to butcher you?
Here's the deal. Coaching is the process of making people better. Doesn't matter what you're coaching. But we (most people, including me) have this subconscious default that better=more. So in this stupid subconscious conspiracy, the student wants to learn more-- cool techniques and nifty strategies, and we want to give them more-- power generation systems that stack so that the effects compound, for instance.
And sometimes, especially for beginners, that's okay.
But if fighting is an art, it's stone sculpture. You have to chip off everything that is not what you want. That probably made no sense. Let's try again.
Coaching the one-step (lots of one-step at VioDy, so it's fresh in my mind) there are four (at least) levels of coaching. (It was six by the time I got to the end of the article.)
The first level is no coaching at all. Fact is, fighting and surviving are natural and only extremely brainwashed people need to be taught how to hurt a human body. So we deliberately set up the first few rounds so that the students have fun and play with a part of their nature they've been told they don't have. We still have to coach for safety stuff, but playing without implanting skills first demystifies the process a lot. Students aren't here (wherever hear is) to learn to fight. They're here to learn to fight (and see and apply judgement and articulate decisions and...) better.
Second level is asking questions. Giving the students a leg up on self-coaching. You are the only person inhabiting your body (I hope) and you are the only person at the center of your own action. No outside coach can possibly see or feel as much as you do. You must become your own best coach. Asking questions, especially about training artifacts that come up, gives students permission to use their own input and to step into a place that's scary for most beginners: "Damn, some of the things I've been taught are wrong. Worse, I knew they were wrong and went along because an authority figure told me to do it that way? What else do I have to test for myself? Everything?" Yeah, pretty much everything.
Third level are the "skill builds." Take the student out of the game, work on a specific skill, like leverage and leverage points, and put them back in the game with the new knowledge. Let them experiment with the new* tool or perspective in coordination with the skills they already have and their natural movements.
*And some of these skills can seem new, but very few are truly new. We use leverage all the time, every day-- how you hold a steak knife, a hammer or even a pencil are all expressions of leverage.
Fourth level, and where most of us as coaches spend most of our effort late in a seminar: Blindspots.
If you can honestly see what is in front of you, most of the time the most efficient solution becomes obvious. But all training sets up templates for how one sees, and things outside the template become invisible. Boxers and kick boxers don't see knee pops. They can physically see the same thing a silat player sees-- "My knee is very close to the threat's knee." But it's not on there mental list of tools so they don't see the affordances in what they observe.
Aside-- This is a huge weakness with technique-based training. When you get stuck (say in a pin or a lock) technique-based training requires you to have a specific escape for that specific hold. If the hold is new to you, you're screwed. First time I encountered knee-on-belly, I froze trying to run through all the escapes I knew. I didn't notice that his base was a narrow line that I could pop him off balance. I didn't notice that there was a big gap I could just slide out of. I was trying to remember instead of see, and memory is not an optimal brain function for fighting.
So the essence of fourth-level coaching, at least for this drill is simply, "Stop. Go back one move. Did you see...?"
Fifth level is the chisel. It's weeding out any unnecessary movements. A lot of it can be summed up in "closest weapon to closest target" but there more there. Why does almost everyone instinctively pull back before a strike? What little power you gain is far offset by the time lost and the warning given. When going for an o-soto-gari outside leg sweep, how often would it be more efficient just to drive your knee through his rather than go all the way around for the sweep?
Efficiency, in every physical endeavor, is about getting to the end result with the least (effort, time, motion) possible. The best runner moves less than the second best to get to the same distance. The best fighters finish thing quicker because they waste less motion.
Oh, and there's a sixth level of coaching. Monitoring the student's emotional state while they one-step or spar. With a little practice you can see a lot. Memories. Hesitations. Internal monologue. Successes they have been punished for. This sixth level can be valuable for integrating physicality, thought and emotion.
Basically there are only three legitimate reasons to go hands-on. Either you need to escape, to disable the person (usually so that you can escape) or you need to gain control of the threat (usually a consideration for professionals.)
This came up a lot at VioDy. Randy had added one when he was teaching Context of Violence: Acquiesce. In that context, it can be seen as four options. You can choose to try to escape, to try to disable, to try to control or to just go along with the bad guy's program. That's a legitimate choice, to. If you have made that choice, you made it with the information you had in the moment and that was the option that seemed to have the best ending. If you are reading this now, it worked. It might have sucked but you are alive. It worked. Never let any armchair quarterback tell you that you survu=ived wrong.
Those are four options, but I'm going back to the three original goals. said earlier that the mindsets, the tactics, the techniques and even the physics are different, and largely incompatible, between the three.
One example, and because we're talking about energy and physics, it might earn the label esoterica.
In all but a very few cases, if you want to disable someone, you need to direct kinetic energy towards his core. Mass and structure both act as tamping (just like when setting up explosives) and more damage happens. If you punch into a threat so that the force is going away from his centerline, the force bounces off. If you strike into weak structure, the structure gives and your force goes into motion, not damage. To do damage you strike into the threat's mass and structure. (Except for rotational damage, breaking the twigs or sprinting into the base, but even those have an element...)
So for disabling, your force generally needs to go towards the centerline of the opponent. That is the one direction that your energy can't go for escape. There are exceptions for this, too (some wedging and back-whip power generation) but escape requires putting kinetic energy into the empty space. In other words, you don't run directly into the bad guy, because that would obviously be stupid.
And control. It's impossible to escape from someone you are holding in a submission. The strategies, tactics, techniques and force vectors are incompatible. I can use many control techniques to disable-- takedowns and locks require very slight modification. But the disabling is either using gravity or putting force into/through the technique. Most controlling is done by working the vector in circles and on the perimeter.
A good leg sweep hits the leg as far down as possible with the hand as high as practical. Raise the leg's point of contact and lower the hand's and your leverage decreases. Elbow leverage point, knees, head-- all periphery and all central to control. In an oseikomi pin, I'm not trying to hold down your center of mass, I'm using my limbs as chock-blocks under your corners; using my mass to make dead weight at the edges of your body you need to move. Corners, edges--periphery. Grrrrrr. This is the hard one to do in word pictures.
But the force vectors for escape, control and disable are very, very different. Often, so are the mindsets, the tactics and the techniques. Only principles hold through all three and even with principles the emphasis shifts.
There is a fourth reason to go hands-on. That's to prove you are better at fighting. Which turns out to be just as incompatible with the main three as they are with each other--a half-assed blend of the main three goals.
It was the best VioDy so far, and I rank that on a combination of smooth and deep (try to ignore the '70s porn music now playing in your head.) Smooth-- things happened on time; each lesson played off of and set up other lessons. Deep-- people changed and you could see them change.
If I was going to write an AAR, that's where I'd start. If I was going to write for advertising, that's where I'd start and end. But I'm more selfish than that.
This year brought together a stable of five extraordinary instructors-- Kasey Keckeisen, Randy King, Tammy Yard-McCracken, and Terry Trahan. And me. I love this gathering for many reasons but one of the biggest, and selfishest (if that's a word) is because this group makes me better. Better at thinking, better at teaching...
So, not talking about the seminar at all, I want to walk out an expansion on a thought.
There are a handful of principles. I define principles as those rules of physics or physiology that make other things work. If it is a principle, it applies to striking, grappling and weapons. If it is a principle, there are no exceptions.
I don't know if what follows will be useful to many people. It is a way to organize information you may already have, and I can find a lot of use in this organizational scheme, but your mileage may vary. It might be too esoteric for most people.
Almost all of the principles can be organized around multiple dimensions.
One dimension is yours, mine, and ours. You have a structure. I have a structure. When we clinch up or one of us grabs the other, we have a structure. I can use my structure to damage you better. I can exploit your structure to force you into a worse position. And I can use your grip to slave your skeleton to mine so that what I do with my structure affects your structure, because we have become a unit.
Same with balance. I'm a bipedal creature with a center of gravity and I can stabilize or exploit the destabilization of that. You, likewise, are a bipedal creature with a center of gravity and I can alter and exploit that. When we clinch up, we are both of the above but also a quadruped with a shared center of gravity, and I can exploit that as well.
The second dimension. Offense or defense. Defensively, I can stabilize my base so I'm hard to throw. Offensively, I can sacrifice my balance for a drop-step.
The third dimension-- positive or negative. These words have operational definitions in this context. Operational definition means the word has a very specific meaning that may not match the common usage. In this context, positive means present; stability means absent.
Structure is the positive aspect, void the negative. On balance is the positive aspect, imbalance the negative.
A structured dropstep (positive structure, negative balance) is one of the easiest and most effective offensive uses. Relaxing and drop stepping away from the strike/into the void is a defensive use of negative structure and negative balance. Dracula's Cape is positive structure and negative balance in both an offensive and defensive mode...
And so on.
Any kind of intellectual organization of material is pretty much useless when the rubber meets the road. Including this one. But the intellectual understanding comes into play when you are analyzing something that happened and when you are figuring out how to pass it on. At the instructor level, I'm perfectly happy to do a class on Structure and Void. That's useful for instructors. For students (who should rightly be thought of as end-users) the key is to design a fast-moving game where exploitation of any principle (yours, mine, ours; offensive and defensive; positive and negative) has obvious, tangible effects. It just becomes an obvious way to move.
I'll probably write about the seminar later. Maybe publicly. But this is one of many things I'm processing and here is where I like to process.
Not sure how long these will be available, or how useful they will be to anyone who didn't attend, but createspace has copies of the VioDy Prime Workbook available.