Friday, December 24, 2010

A crazy time of year

It's been a hectic time of year, too much to do and not enough time to do it.  It seems once you're an adult, the holidays always seems to sneak up on you.

I'll be off doing holiday type things for the next few days.  As always, martial arts won't be far from my mind, in fact, there are a few martial arts items on my list to Santa.

I've been discovering some great blogs out there lately.  When things settle down, I'll be adding a few links to my blog.  There's some great people out there with some great ideas and opinions.  I'll also be delving deeper into the topic of knife fighting and realistic defenses to edged weapon attacks.  There's been some interesting discussion on line lately about these topics.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone out there.  I wish you all the best!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Get off the tracks...

One of the simplest concepts that often proves difficult to apply is to 'get off the tracks'.  I think naturally, we tend to back straight up when we are being attacked.

It is very important to get off the center line.  Sideways, angles, circles, moving in, these are all options.  I see it again and again where people keep backing up.  This is a bad idea.  First off, it's easy to lose your balance and fall or not see obstructions behind you (including another attacker).  Second, it very rarely offers any tactical advantage.   You are in exactly the same place you started off from, and often you're worse off.  Third, it is quite likely you may be bowled over by your attacker if they continue forward.

It's a simple concept, it sounds simple.  It's not so simple to do.  My particular style usually moves in towards the attacker, or off to the sides to best utilize their strength and momentum against them.  We often yield to the opposing force and then re-direct to a position of advantage.

Occasionally, I still find myself backing up, but this is normally during sparring, and less often during Randori.  Spend some time watching other students to see if they tend to move straight back.  Spend some time watching yourself too.

Remember, you're not in control if you're backing up.  You can't plan and get out of danger.  At best, you're just trying frantically to protect yourself, which doesn't help you get control of the situation.  Your opponent can also track you and time their attacks.  A linear target doesn't require the attacker to reacquire their target area and re-aim, they can just keep firing off shots  The same can apply if someone pulls a gun on you, but that's a topic for another post.

So the next time that trains coming towards you, do yourself a favor and get off the tracks!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Magic and making immovable

From time to time we discuss Ki, (or Chi, or Qi, depending on your discipline) in our training.  While performing a technique, Sensei will have us work on drawing energy and projecting it into what we're doing.  I have to admit, it seems to help.  Whether it's actually Ki, or just the level of concentration that improves it, I'm not sure.

It is possible to root yourself and make it harder for your opponent to unbalance you, all while remaining in the same stance or position. Concentrating on becoming immovable makes it far harder to for your partner to shove, trip or throw.

I have had the opportunity to see a master who could make himself unmovable at a seminar.  He invited students from any school to come and lift him off his feet.  The master locked in a stance (a high stance, by the way) and had 4 burly young students (none of them his) try to lift him up.  They could not.  Now, I'm naturally suspicious that it was acting, but I knew one of the volunteers and he said he was really trying.

I also saw a Sifu sitting on a chair and four of his students, after concentrating, lifted him up, chair and all, using only their index and middle finger on one hand.  They lifted him up to their shoulder height without any visible strain.  I still can't say whether or not it was the Sifu making himself light or the students using Qi.

My cynicism says it's parlor tricks, my experience makes me think it's real.  I want it to be possible and attainable.

I'm curious if anyone out there uses Ki in their training or have experienced it in their travels.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I had an opportunity to spend some one on one time with my Sensei recently. Something hasn't been feeling the same lately.  I felt that I had somehow slipped into neutral with my training.  I was getting to class, I was training with a serious mind and I was enjoying myself, but I didn't really feel like I was improving.  My technique still worked, but something was a little off.

So I asked him about it.  He said simply that he had noticed and I hadn't been as focused lately.  At first I was taken aback.  I always pay attention and am serious about my training.  As I started to respond, saying that I didn't realize I had been unfocused and that I hoped he didn't think I wasn't taking things seriously, he sort of chuckled and said "No, no, I think it's all the stuff going on in your life right now."

I've got lots going on in my life right now, and most of it's positive but it was an interesting statement.

My Sensei wasn't concerned in the slightest.  He just mentioned that he thought my mind was really busy, with lots of 'stuff' bouncing back and forth.

I usually think of focus as paying attention, really listening and concentrating on the task at hand.  I also consider it training in technique seriously and realistically.

The other day I realized focus can be a different thing.  I came away with two things:

1.  Sometimes our focus is affected by what's going on in our lives.  You can lose focus from negative or positive things that are going on.  This is o.k.  It'll happen from time to time.  There's no need to worry about it too much.

2.  I plan on spending a few moments on meditation before and after class, to re-focus myself on my training.  Life can be so busy, a few minutes here and there can work wonders.  In fact, meditation shouldn't be confined to martial arts training, it's good for almost anyone, anytime.

Interestingly, we went on to work on some concepts and techniques after our chat and it was one of the most productive sessions that I've had in a long time.  Just talking about focus helped to free my mind and my body followed suit.

Focus means many things.  Accepting that my own will vary with the ups and downs of life was a valuable lesson.  In martial arts, as in with life, it's always good to look at something from a different perspective.

Focus on that for a bit...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What are you training for? Think hard and answer honestly...

J.C. over at Bujutsu: The Path made an interesting comment several months ago.  From time to time it rattles around in my head.

We had been chatting about martial arts and the pros and cons of different styles and the effectiveness of some techniques we'd been working on, and how some people are critical or others or have strong theories of what will or will not work and who knows what else when he said, somewhat in passing:

"There's faster ways to learn how to fight"

That statement has bounced around in my mind since then.  Any readers of this blog will know the emphasis I put on learning realistic techniques that can translate to the real world and work in dynamic stressful situations.

I have also met lots of people out there that are examining and exploring their martial art to gain a deeper understanding and to compare what they are learning to what they need to know to defend themselves, should the need arise.

Some enlightened artists are discarding some techniques.  Others are discovering ways to apply a learned technique or are discovering deeper layers to their art which translates into real world usability. A few are abandoning what they study or are at least supplementing their training.

Many are moving towards the many Reality Based Systems out there, feeling that they strip away all that 'other stuff' and just teach pure technique.

All these things are good.

Two simple but important questions that you need to ask yourself:

# 1. What am I training for?

# 2.  Is my training reflective of my goals (#1)

These are mental checks that should be done from time to time to make sure you're on track.  It's a simple but effective way to keep yourself on the right path.

If your goal is purely self defense, and time is of the essence, perhaps a reality based system is right for you.

If however, you just like the fitness and camaraderie of it all, well, you don't need to be as selective.

Can you have different goals?

Yes, but they can't be conflicting goals.  My main goal is learning a realistic effective flexible martial art that works on the street, under stress, every time.

My other goals are to improve myself, perfect my character, find inner peace and banish ego.  These goals compliment each other, and often work in tandem.  My main goal, however, is always my priority.

It is possible that as I continue my journey over the years, my focus may shift.  If it does, it will likely be as a result of mastery of my primary goal.  I believe that this is the process Morihei Ueshiba went through when he created Aikido.  He moved towards the loftier goals of self improvement and harmony, but only after he had mastered several different disciplines and styles of martial arts.

If you feel your training is not reflective of your goals, you need to figure out why.

Most important, is your head in the game?  Do you approach your own training in a serious manner?  If you don't, it doesn't really matter what martial art you take.

It's rarely the martial art itself.  Each art has strengths and weaknesses, it is the students and the teachers that are most often lacking.

My suggestion is to cross train.  Take a reality based seminar.  Try out a different art for a bit.  See what's out there and if that training lines up with your goals.  Don't abandon your art in favour of a 'quick fix', however.  Most true martial arts are just that, martial systems that were proved in combat as some time.

I found that while taking some seminars, watching videos, experimenting in this and that and doing some reading, that I kept seeing Jiu Jitsu techniques.  It confirmed that my style, and more importantly, my Sensei, was teaching a relevant and effective system.

Know yourself.  What do you want to get out of training?  Almost everyone you talk to who takes any martial arts will say they're in it for self defense.  I believe that they believe that they are, but I suspect that for many, it is not their primary goal.  Their approach, mindset and expectations don't always match up to their words.

This isn't always a bad thing.  It's not wrong to put a priority on the social aspects of martial arts study.  It can boost physical fitness, improve confidence and teach a few good techniques to almost anyone.

In fact, the true understanding of combat application may be unrealistic for some.  Many people have never been in a real fight in their adult lives, and many never will.  There's no frame of reference from which to measure training against real world violence.  For those that have, or for those who's profession comes into contact with violence, it's a different story.  So know what you want and need.

I read a thought provoking post over at the Chiron blog touching on this. Worthwhile reading.

One interesting thought that emerged for me as I was chewing on these topics is how difficult it is to know how well you are doing if you abandon an established system with a curriculum and grading system.  If you focused solely on reality based seminars and courses, how would you know how you are doing?  It's not like you typically get a black belt in a reality based system.  A counter argument could be that a black belt in a martial art which isn't taught with a focus on real world application isn't an indicator of anything either (if your only goal is reality self defense).

What started as an innocent comment from J.C. sparked quite a bit of thought on my part.  Sure, there are faster ways to learn how to fight, but I'm not sure there's necessarily better.  I feel I could teach a seminar on reality self defense.  I have taught new police recruits in restraint and control and arrest techniques with success.  There are some pretty good crash courses out there for self defense.  For many, this is enough.  For me, I expect a little bit more from my training.

I guess at the moment,  I'm majoring in combat, with a minor in self improvement and perfection of character.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Flinch training and follow-up

In my last post, I touched upon the instinctive 'flinch' response that it ingrained in us when we are unexpectedly attacked.  I said that I hoped one day that my flinch response would be completely overcome and I would achieve a state of Mushin.

Sue from "My Journey to Black Belt" made an interesting comment which led me to read her post entitled Block of Flinch in martial arts?.  It's definitely worth a read.

When I said that in an unexpected attack I accept that I would most likely have an instinctive response first and then have to deal with the situation at hand, it didn't necessarily mean that I felt it was a bad thing.  It was largely meant to point out that in the real world, you may not have the opportunity to observe and recognize what type of attack is coming in, formulate a counter, execute it properly and then continue on.

I do hope that one day I will be so highly trained that I am aware of every potential threat and no attack could ever take me off guard, but I recognize that achieving this omnipresent state is a lofty goal indeed.

In our dojo, we are always required to finish a technique.  It may not end up being the intended technique due either to the uke going 'off script' or ending up in an unexpected position.  For example, if we are practicing a block from the inside and then a counter and we block from the outside by mistake, there is no stopping and saying "oops" and starting over.  You need to adjust to what you have and where you are.  We also use free practice or Randori to test our mettle.  Nothing like unscripted attacks to make you think, or not think, if you do it right...

Read my Importance of Randori post for more on this type of training.

Now that my curiosity is piqued, I'd like to know how many clubs out there train to use the flinch response to their advantage.  I'd love some feedback.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Principles vs. specific techniques

There are many stages of study in the martial arts.  We learn the basics and we learn basic defenses from straight forward attacks.  We start feeling pretty good at how fast we get at defending until your opponent alters their attack.  Maybe they throw a hook instead of a straight punch, or gasp! a left instead of a right.

The basics give way to having some flexibility.  We add movement, a little Randori, multiple attacks or attackers,  and we see ourselves continue to improve.

We feel pretty good about ourselves and our technique and then Sensei shows us a counter to each one.  Now our minds are struggling again.  The tables have been turned.

We get pretty good at some counters, then Sensei tells us that there are approximately 5 counters to each technique he's taught us.  Now the curriculum, which was robust to start with, has increased 5 fold. Oh yeah, and there are multiple variations of every technique too.

Yikes!  How are we ever going to learn all that?  There's hundreds of techniques, often there's kata as well.  Is it even possible?  After all, didn't we read an article that said that the best martial artists only use a handful of techniques?

We continue to train and then we see some similarities.  Didn't we just use that same motion on that joint from an entirely different attack?  From the ground?  Yup.

As we continue to gain a deeper understanding of our art, we start to concentrate on principles versus specific technique.  Instead of trying to figure out what attack is coming and what response we are going to have to it, we react to what is available or what presents itself to us.  After all, a wrist can only go in certain directions, a shoulder can only travel across a certain plane of movement.

Assuming you've received the attack without serious injury, be it from evasion, a block, or even being hit, what have you got?  Did your opponent grab?  Did they leave their arm out?  Did they pull it back? Did they crash into you? Are you on the ground?  Against the wall? Instead of trying to plan what to do, you do what's available to you.

This is similar to the concept of Mushin, or no mind, in the arts.  It is what most of us strive for.  While this is sort of an ultimate goal for me, at this stage of my journey I take a slightly more pragmatic approach.

If I know I'm about to engage in combat, I usually have a pretty good idea of what attack is coming.  Body language, target fixation, twitches and 'tells' usually give away the intentions.  I can often (not always) respond well if I see it coming.

In the more likely event that someone tries a surprise attack of some sort, I train to be aware of my surroundings so I'm aware that there's a threat of some sort.  Assuming I'm unable to extricate myself from the situation, the attack is more likely to come in an unpredictable manner.  After all, real fights rarely start with two people squared off with lots of room to move.

It is in this type of unpredictable attack scenario that understanding principles trumps specific techniques.  I don't flatter myself to think that I can block or evade every attack with ease.  I'm more likely to minimize the damage caused.  My instinctive reactions are more likely to kick in over my martial arts training as an initial response to an unprovoked or unexpected attack.

The question ends up "So now what"  The attack came, you're still conscious, what have you got?  If you have a wrist, you turn it, an outstretched arm, you extend it, maybe striking the elbow.  If the neck's there, you squeeze it etc.

Understanding the principles allows you to manipulate your opponent from whatever position you and your attacker are in.

A deeper understanding the principles can even allow you to effectively defend yourself if you can't see.  You can feel where your opponent is and use his/her body against them because you understand the principles of your art, the body and the techniques.

One day I hope to train to a point where my instinctive 'flinch' type reaction is overcome completely and I achieve a state of Mushin. Until then, I'll continue to work at gaining a deeper understanding of the principles.

Food for thought.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A couple of interesting topics and posts

As the sport of MMA keeps growing, more and more people are training 'UFC' style.  You are now far more likely to face a person on the street who wants to shoot in and take you down for some ground and pound.  This was extremely rare in the past but is becoming much more common.

Mixed martial artists are talented athletes and plenty of them are tough as nails.  Without getting into the debate of mixed martial arts vs. traditional vs. reality based systems, the main limitation of MMA for street fighting is the rules.

MMA athletes train with rules.  You fight as you train.

Knowing this, to prepare myself for the increased likelihood of facing an MMA trained individual in the real world, I have a couple of options.  I could cross train for several years in MMA, learning to fight within a ruleset, or, I can train in all the things that are against the rules.

This is not a discussion on being able to adapt MMA to the street, but it is food for thought on an approach to training that deals with the realities around us.

J.C. has an interesting related post on this topic.  Check it out at Bujutsu: The Path.

On an unrelated topic, my last post discussed some lessons learned or re-affirmed when some new students visited our dojo.  My original post is here.

Sue C over at My Journey to Black Belt left a comment on my blog.  I discovered a post of hers entitled Honouring technique.  It touched on several of the areas I discussed in my last post and some I discussed in an earlier post here.

You can find Sue's post here.  A worthwhile read.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Advanced basics?

'Advanced techniques are the basics done better'.  I've quoted these words before and I'll likely quote them again.

This knowledge was driven home again not long ago.  We had some prospective students try out a class at our dojo.  They could best be described and huge.  I'm a fairly big guy myself and I felt small around this pair.  They had no martial arts training to speak of but they were both very strong.  Their wrists and hands made mine look dainty.

Our Sensei had us run through a bunch of basics, which served to showcase some of the concepts behind our style.  The new pair were very nice but like many new people, tensed up when we were applying technique.  They resisted the application of technique.  This is a natural reaction but it really drove home the point about how important the basics are for me.  A few things stuck out.

1.  I really had to concentrate on perfection of my technique.  I couldn't cheat a bit and power through the technique if I wasn't applying it properly.  This is a good thing, of course, because it doesn't let me get lazy with my technique.

2. I had to be careful.  The natural response to their resistance was for me to really sink in the technique when I applied it.  The danger of this is that it can very easily cause injury.  When the technique overcame the resistance, it was often near a breaking point or a point which would damage something.  This combined with fact that they haven't gotten used to 'tapping' out made it necessary for us all to keep a close eye on events.

Interestingly, at first their resistance made me briefly question the effectiveness of my technique.  Why weren't they working right away like with other students?  Over the course of the class, however, this process made me realize just how dangerous our techniques can be. The harder they resisted, the more the chance of serious injury.  The new pair initially tried to 'tough it out' with the pain, but by the end of the class, their hands were in the hovering, ready to tap position nearly from the start of the technique.  They were also shocked with how little effort is needed with our Jiu Jitsu.  If you're using muscle, you're not doing it right.

3. They also reminded me just how important the loosening up technique is.  I've mentioned softening or distraction techniques before.  We use them to disrupt our opponents thought process.  It makes them concentrate on another area of their body allowing our technique to be applied.  As much as I know how important they are, it's easy to get lazy and just go through the motion of the distraction technique, be it a kick, stomp, slap, yell etc.  When the new students resisted, it reminded me that practicing the distraction technique is just as important as the follow up technique.

This is a valuable lesson that I must not forget.      

It was a great experience to have brand new students in the class.  It was almost touching to watch them as they saw the first glimpses of what the martial arts can do.  You'd see their eyes light up as they discovered the 'magic' of how easily they could control another person.  It reminded me of what I thought and felt so many years ago when I began my own journey.

4.   You can learn from everyone.  The new students learned a whole bunch of new things in class.  You could argue, however, that I learned just as much.  I was reminded of the importance not to let any of the basics slip.  I was also reminded to remain flexible in my approach.  New people don't always move in the same way as experienced ones do.  They don't anticipate and go with a technique as easily.  This is a great thing as it makes me adjust and adapt as needed, a valuable skill.

I came away having even more respect for my chosen art.  It works. Of that I have no doubt.  If something doesn't work, chances are I've gotten lazy.  Basics serve as the foundation for all that follows. When Sensei effortlessly hurls me across the room, it's because he's mastered the basics.  The rest is easy.

Never lose sight of what got you to where you are.

Train well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gross Motor Skills

Read any article on reality based martial arts or street fighting or any current self defense course and you'll likely read about how people's fighting skills degrade under stress.   Stress can cause the loss of fine motor skills.  Stress and adrenaline and some other brain/body processes can also cause shaking, sweating, tunnel vision and auditory exclusion.  As a result, many instructors are spending a lot more time teaching and practicing self defense techniques utilizing gross motor skills.  They are also raising their student's stress levels through a variety of methods such as exercise, blindfolds and dynamic scenario based training.  I think this is a great thing and should be included in any serious training program.

What you'll often read in conjunction with these articles is that much of the more fine motor skill based techniques currently being taught in most dojos or schools are of limited or no value.  Some will say they are a complete waste of time.

While I plan to write more on stress and it's affects on combat, I'd like to mention the following:

It is my belief that if you train realistically and with the proper mindset for long enough, your stress response to violence can greatly reduce or even disappear.

There is much truth to the saying that "You fight like you train".  If your mind is in the right place and you train realistically and with focus, you may not lose your fine motor skills at all.  Proper training and mindset can essentially inoculate you from violence.  Not all people can reach this level, but many can.

Stressful situations can cause drastically different responses in different people, and I find this very interesting.  Some people can remain calm and some people just fall apart.

Let me ask this.  If you knew that someone posed you no real threat and that you could easily defend yourself against them with a minimum of effort, how stressed would you be if they approached you and wanted to fight?  Probably not too stressed.  Proper training can get you into this state.  After all, if you've been through the same type of incident dozens or hundreds of times in your training, the real event isn't going to rattle you very much.

You can't necessarily change how stress and adrenaline affects you, but you can reduce or eliminate the amount or the severity of the stress you experience in the first place through effective and consistent training.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Layers - One of the reasons I love Jiu Jitsu

"It'll still work, but..."  I can't tell you how many times I've heard that statement or a variation of it in my dojo.  My Sensei has said it thousands of times to me, always followed by a slight correction, whether it be my feet, my hands, the angle, my stance, my movement etc.

What fascinates me, and occasionally frustrates me, is how there is always more to learn.  I've mentioned it before but the simplest (yeah, right) technique seems to have endless layers.  There is always improvements to be made and new things to be learned.  Sometimes a nearly imperceptible change can yield impressive results. Sometimes these things are easily taught and shown and sometimes they are just felt.  No matter how proficient I get at a technique, there is always more for me to discover.

I've often wondered how the heck my Sensei just showed me something new with a wrist throw or other highly practiced technique from our curriculum.  It amazes me.  It is for this reason, of course, that he can toss me around more effortlessly than anyone I've ever met.  Other people work a bit harder for it.  Technically they are doing the same movement but Sensei has mastered the layers of the technique.

What has always drawn me to my chosen art is that even though there are so many layers to be discovered in a technique, the first one still works.  You will still accomplish what you set out to do.  So it starts off working right out of the gate.  After that, it becomes a journey of discovery and improvement. Each time you practice, you have an opportunity to improve.  That's why I've learned to love hearing "It'll still work, but..."  I know I am about to have a chance to discover another layer.

Layers mean that my journey is never over, there is always more to be learned.  Armed with this knowledge, I can hold on to the beginners mindset in my approach to training.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Act like a crazy person...

There are many different strategies for self defense.  Awareness, as I've discussed previously, is your best defense.  Being able to avoid conflict by being aware of your surroundings is your number one tool for defense.

So what can you do to get out of a situation that you couldn't avoid that is escalating or you fear is about to, without resorting to fighting?  If you realize you are about to be a victim or violence, you may want to think out of the box.

One idea is to act like you're nuts.  Talk to someone that isn't there. Yell or laugh.  Give yourself a violent physical tic or spasm.  Go on a diatribe about one topic or another.  Announce to no one in particular that you are really really angry.  Refer to yourself in the third person. Put random words together.  Sing loudly.

This just may be enough to make a potential thug look for easier prey.  It also draws the attention of others, something criminals don't like.

A friend of mine told me a story about a similar type of out of the box thinking.  A person was in the process of withdrawing money from a bank machine.  He realized he was in a fairly isolated area and was being approached by two guys he was pretty sure were about to rob him.  He hit cancel on his transaction and then started swearing loudly about how 'That B*#@^ had cleaned him out'.  He was ranting and raving about how she had closed his account and was a conniving vengeful so and so... He went on and on.  The she, of course, did not exist, but his angry screaming match with himself at the bank machine caused the two males to walk away.  They had lost their easy target and in their minds were now dealing with a broke guy on the edge, not an easy score.

Creativity can often win the day.  The above ideas are not guaranteed to work but are examples of how you might think on the fly to avoid a violent confrontation.  You've still got your training as a back up and you may cause your would be attacker to walk away or underestimate you if he/she continues to try to cause you harm.

{Note:  This post is in no way meant to make fun of, or cast dispersions on, any person suffering from any mental illness or physical ailment}

Stay safe.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Protect your head!

Different fighters hold their hands in different positions when they engage in combat. A post over at dojo rat got me thinking about hand position.

My Sensei holds one hand closer to his body and one hand extended out, being held higher.  This position allows for him to cover his body and parry away from the head.  He's very good at this and it's darn near impossible to 'get in' on him.  Some other fighters believe in a keeping their hands in close and held higher, more like a boxer's stance.

For true combat, from my experience in and out of the dojo, I am more likely to adopt the boxer like hand position.  I am aware there are strengths and weaknesses to each approach.

The main reasons that I lean towards the boxer type style are as follows:

1.  I am more likely to be knocked out if I'm stuck in the face than in the body.  So I protect the 'knock out' button located on my chin with my hands.  I recognize that body shots can put a person down, but I'm more concerned about ending up unconscious in a real fight.

2.  My style of Jiu Jitsu and my theories on combat are mainly based on the idea of moving into my opponent.  If I practiced moving away all the time, a more extended hand position might be more appropriate.  I feel my chances of being able to absorb an initial attack and move in are pretty high with my hands up.

I could probably make an argument for the extended position as well. It definitely has some advantages.  In fact, sparring rules or sessions would likely have me adopt the extended hand position but this is due to rules being in place and most sparring being point based with the action stopping after a hit or two.

For real combat, I want to move it, stay in close and not get knocked out.  As such, the hand up high position is superior for me for entry and balance and energy disruption.

I'd enjoy any thoughts on this topic.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I've read a few articles by John Coles over at his Kojutsukan blog lately.  His blog delves into quite a few topics tied in to modern day martial arts study.  He comes at topics from a neutral point of view and references most of his comments with solid research.

I'm adding his blog to my list of recommended links.  Most of his topics apply to a variety of different arts.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Learning to take a hit

At some point during martial arts study, you're going to get hit.  It may be in sparring or it may occur unintentionally during practice.  As unpleasant as it is, it's important to discover how you react to being struck.  It can be quite telling for some.

The biggest advantage to being hit is that you get an idea of what it might be like to be attacked.  Many people have never been hit or it was so long ago that they have no real reference to draw upon from past experience.  Being hit makes a lot of people freeze.  A combination of shock, pain and often disassociation to the events occur.  Different people will respond in different ways to the shock of a punch, kick, knee or elbow.  How do you react?  Do you freeze?  Do you shut down and turtle?  Do you get mad?  Fight back?

Anyone who takes their training seriously needs to discover the answers to these questions at some point.  Once you have experienced a hit, you need to spend time visualizing how you will react if it happens in real life.  You will likely also have the double edged sword of adrenaline to deal with, great for strength and fight or flight, not so good for motor skills.

As for my training, it contains a fair amount of contact and more than a little pain.  I think it's important.  We are very careful, of course, and no one wants to get injured during training, but the addition of increasing discomfort or the shock of a little 'shot' adds an element of reality to the mix.  It is not possible to replicate the type of shock and intensity of real combat without hurting each other, but we try to get as close as safety will allow.  This gives me confidence that my technique will work.  If I'm defending a choke, the choke must get tighter and tighter.  If my training partner just sort of puts his or her hands around my neck, there is no sense of urgency to my response.  If I'll be choked out if I don't do something quickly, I really learn what will and won't work.

We also rely heavily on 'softening' techniques to disrupt our opponents balance, thought process and energy.  This portion of technique can't be overlooked.  The next part of the defense won't work if the first part isn't done properly.

In some ways, you learn how to give a hit while learning how to take one.

I have seen some martial arts clubs where there is never any contact of any kind.  My fear is that in a real confrontation, students of those clubs would have no idea how to react to an attack if they've been hit.  Technique often goes out the window once you're hurt.

I'm not suggesting getting heavy handed in your training or getting too aggressive.  Training should still be enjoyable and safe, but if your goal is to learn an art that can save you from a real world attack, you better learn to take a hit.

Be safe.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knives for Self Defense

Knives are everywhere.  I have spent a lot of time searching out realistic defenses for knife attacks.  Bladed weapons are everywhere.  They fascinate and terrify me at the same time.  Not long ago, one of J.C's posts over at Bujutsu: the Path got me thinking in reverse.  I always stress that any time you use a weapon, it should be an extension of your empty hand techniques.  This commonality of techniques reduces the chances of getting tripped up when adding a weapon to the equation.  J.C. mentioned that the actions or motions or concepts behind certain weapons techniques helped him develop his empty hand techniques.  He learned from the instrument itself versus my insistence of making the instrument bend to my empty hand concepts.  It's all a matter of perspective, but it gave me pause.

I have, and will, discuss knife defense in the future.  Being attacked with a knife attack is, in my opinion, the most dangerous and the most likely form of violence that the average law abiding person will face.

Some people may be tempted to arm themselves with knives in order to defend themselves.  There are several issues to consider.  There are four topics that need to be considered.

#1.  It is illegal in many countries, states and provinces.

#2.  The very fact that someone arms themselves can cause a false sense of security.  The person may be tempted to engage in a behaviour that they would not normally partake in.  They might get into a situation that they would normally walk away from due to false confidence in their weapon or blade.

#3. Unless a person is trained in the use and the retention of a weapon, the very real risk of the weapon being taken from them by their attacker and then being used on them exists.

#4. Finally, a point that is often overlooked.  Knives are a poor choice for self defense.  For self defense. 

I'm the first to stress how deadly dangerous knives are.  An attack can be fatal with a small slash or a shallow puncture.  Having said that, these results most often occur some time after the attack.

Most people who are attacked with a knife do not realize that they have been stabbed or cut until after the  event.  Most often, they think they have been punched or slapped until they see either the blade or the blood.  The initial ability to fight back is normally still intact.  There are exceptions, of course, but more often than not, the effects or the attack do not incapacitate the victim until some time later.

This is the reason for stressing the point that knives are a poor choice for self defense.  The use of a knife to try to overpower or stop an attacker from attacking is unrealistic.  Chances are, a motivated attacker will complete their assault on you before the results of your knife attack/defense are realized.  If your goal is to protect yourself and get away safely from a violent assault, knives are not your best option.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pain Compliance

In recent posts, I've touched upon pain compliance techniques.  I believe in them.  They've worked for me in the real world.

It is important to understand the strengths and the limitations of pain compliance techniques (as with any type of technique).  I believe that they are often misunderstood.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that pain compliance techniques must have a perceived 'out' or escape.  Your opponent complies with the technique because they are trying to get away from the pain. You should also provide verbal direction at the same time.  If you are escorting someone out of a room, tell them to get out of the room.  If they've grabbed you, tell them to let go.  By complying, your opponent sees or anticipates a lessening of pain, or it ceasing all together.

If a pain compliance technique is seen to be inescapable, it loses its effectiveness very quickly.  If you are applying a painful technique and your opponent is trapped in a corner with no way out, eventually they will just fight back as they have no other option.

Pain compliance techniques can be very effective when used properly and understood.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The highs and lows

Overall, I am pleased with my progress on my journey.  Lately there have been some great moments when everything sort of clicks.  My responses are getting faster, I'm able to move more freely and many techniques seem easier and more effective.

My last class was not like this.  Everything seemed off by a half step. I fumbled with technique, my timing was off, I forgot kata and my feet seemed to keep getting in each others way.  I know I'm my own worst critic, but I just couldn't seem to put it together.  Come to think of it, my whole day seemed that way.  I hit every red light when driving, I stopped to help a woman trying to carry a heavy suitcase down some stairs into public transit, which caused me to miss my train, I sent some emails leaving off the last word or two of a sentence.  I felt like if I could just re-sync myself by a second or two, everything would have run more smoothly.

I imagine we all have days like this.  I chalk it up to being part of my journey.  As far as martial arts study goes, maybe these days are meant to keep you in check.  Days like these sure stop me from getting too cocky.

To fewer of these days,


Friday, October 15, 2010

Science vs. The Force

Any reader of this blog will know that I feel very strongly that you should always challenge what you know and examine and break down your technique.  Lately I've been enjoying some interesting articles on martial arts topics from a more scientific viewpoint.  I've enjoyed that some older near 'mystical' concepts are being explained under the lens of science.

I study the psychology of combat, the effects of stress and adrenaline, the fight or flight response etc.  The science behind all these things is sound and should be considered by anyone who is a serious student of the martial arts.

This blog has always been intended to be a fluid thing.  I've always believed that keeping an open mind is crucial and have expected some of my own ideas to change or mature over time.

As I've enjoyed reading the scientific explanations for various martial phenomenon and have agreed with most, I now realize that I feel that science only tells part of the story.

I believe that some aspects of the arts, whether it be called qi, chi or internal energy, do indeed exist.  Is it possible that science will explain these things away in the future?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Over the course of my journey, I have occasionally experienced what I call 'glimpses of greatness'  These are the times when I experience those brief moments when everything seems to come together, my technique is effortless, and I just 'get it'  Sadly these moments remain fleeting, but they exist none the less.  There are times when it seems that I know what my opponent is going to do before they do.  I react smoothly and effortlessly, tossing my opponent about effortlessly and with a calm mind.  There have even been those times when it seems as if I barely even touched my opponent and he/she went flying.

I'm not sure that science can totally explain away these experiences.

I believe that there may be some things that remain mystical in the arts.  For those of you that have experienced what I'm talking about, I think you may agree.

There's lots of science behind combat and the martial arts, but there's also a lot more.  As with anything, an open mind will be your best ally.

Any related experiences or opinions would be appreciated.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Worthwhile reading and blog news

I came across a series of interesting posts at another blog recently. It's a bit of a read but well worth it.  There is a 3 part series discussing the weaknesses and strengths of different training methodologies, including the age old debate of sparring vs. kata for realistic training.  The author doesn't take sides but lays out some interesting pros and cons of each.  I found it very interesting and well thought out and researched.  Kata lacks a resisting partner while sparring has to have rules to avoid injury.

Check out the blog at

In another blog related matter, Mark's Physics of Aiki blog has disappeared.  I hope all is well with him and wish him all the best. I've removed his link from my blog as it is a dead link.  Mark, if you come back on line, please let me know and I'll put the link back.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 'No-belt' test

What if belts didn't exist?  Who would you learn from?  Who would you believe was qualified to teach?

We make assumptions based on belt colour.  This is a natural thing to do.  Assumptions, of course, can be problematic.  We can't let the colour of a person's belt be the only thing we see.

I'd be curious to see what would happen if some instructors donned a white or yellow belt and swapped out their black belt to a beginner to run a class.  Would people visiting the school discount the comments of the lower belt and accept the black belt's lessons by rote?

How much would we let slide or not question just because of belt colour?

It's always important to look past belt colour.  What skills do you see? How does the person move?  How well can they manipulate your body?

What if everyone in a dojo wore a white belt?  How easily would you be able to pick out the most talented people?

The reason for this post is to make sure that you are learning from the best instructors or people that you can.  Hold your teacher up to the no belt test.  Honestly ask yourself if you would be drawn to that person's knowledge and ability if there was no belt system.

There are lots of people out there who wear belts that they don't deserve, and lots of people who deserve belts but don't wear them. It's important to recognize both on your journey.

I've blogged about the good and the bad parts of the coloured belt system in the past.

See the good here here and the bad here.

Food for thought.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Freezing up and the brain

React!  Do something!  Anything!

These words appear in my training all the time.  They appear in my blog from time to time.  I will argue that it is far more important to simply react to a spontaneous attack than to have a choreographed response. It takes years of study to smoothly execute specific responses.  Obviously, our end goal is to reach a level where the specific responses occur spontaneously, but that takes time.

Freezing up during a real attack is a very real and common occurrence.  Most people simply aren't equipped to handle what is happening.  I don't mean that they don't have the physical ability to deal with it, I mean that their minds have difficulty accepting what is happening.  It is so far out of the ordinary that the brain can't compute what's happening.  So they freeze.  There is lots of footage on the Internet showing people just standing there while they're being assaulted.

To oversimplify, during this freeze, the brain is searching for some frame of reference from which it can formulate a response.  Past experience is often where it finds these learned responses.  The faster your brain can access this frame of reference, the faster you respond.

Most adults are not used to being assaulted.  They freeze because they can't find any reference from which to draw a response.  (this differs from pure survival instinct, which is a topic for another time).

Luckily, the brain is fairly flexible.  It can often be satisfied with locating similar experiences from which to draw a response.

This is why we train.  We are building up these pools of experience to draw from.  The more we have tucked away, the faster we react.

This is why it's so important to train with a serious mind, utilizing visualization techniques and concentrating on each technique.  This way, when a real attack comes, the brain doesn't need to search to find a response.

This is why you should never get frustrated when you go to the same technique a few times under spontaneous randori.  Yeah, you may have wanted to showcase five techniques, but it's far better to only do one or two, but do them immediately.

Far too many students stop mid defense when an attack is thrown because they didn't do what was asked from them.

Again, it matters less what you do, as long as you do something. Anything.  React.

Train well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Awareness - Part two

A while back, I blogged about awareness.  See the post here.

I read an interesting post Jiu-Jitsu Sensei's blog on the importance of surprise in self defense.

See her post here.

In it, the issue of awareness comes up, paying attention to your surroundings so you are not taken by surprise.   It's worth a read, including the comments.

I've been spending a lot of time on public transit lately, trains and subways.  I am blessed/cursed with not being able to relax, I watch other people constantly, need to have my back to a wall, etc. Looking around at other people lately has made me realize that I'm one of the only ones doing that.  Everyone else is texting, on cell phones, surfing the internet on their phones, listening to music with ear phones.  Heads are down, no eye contact is being made, people are reading books.  Nobody has the slightest clue who or what is going on around them.  People are often nearly touching and neither one has a clue that the other is there.  This dynamic is also happening more and more on street level too.

This concerns me.  The next time you are out and about, take a look around.  Look how easily someone could become a victim, never seeing the attack coming.  While I don't recommend seeing how close you can get to another person before they realize you are there (that's creepy), watch others as people brush past them.  I doubt they even look up.

From a criminal's perspective, these must be great times.  You could pick pocket, assault, push down, or rob people and there's a good chance they might not even get a good look at you.

I'm not suggesting looking everyone in the eye, but have some idea or your surroundings.  Look up from time to time, see what's going on. Your spidy-senses are never going to tingle if you're absorbed in your cell phone.

Parents should talk to their kids about paying attention to their surroundings as well.  It might be a tough sell, but looking up from their wireless devices from time to time could save their lives.

Be safe.  Be aware.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pain compliance techniques. Worthwhile?

I've read several on-line discussions about the value of pain compliance techniques.  Some people say you should do away with them altogether stating that they are ineffective during any real encounter.  Critics will state that a motivated attacker will likely not respond to pain compliance techniques.  Add adrenaline, alcohol, and illicit drugs to the mix and they are even less likely to work.

These are valid points.  Pain compliance techniques don't work on everyone.  We've all worked with a partner who drops at the slightest application of a technique, and with those you really have to apply it to get them to budge.

Should a reality based system throw out pain compliance techniques in favor of ones that rely solely on body movement, joint manipulation and bone breaking?

I say no.  I have personally used many pain compliance techniques with great success.  In the right situation, they can diffuse, de-escalate and end potentially violent encounters.  Which brings me to my next couple of points.

It is essential to know what techniques are meant to do what.  The following are definitions I have come up with to describe how I look at certain techniques:

Pain compliance only - meaning less likely to cause actual damage or real and lasting injury. Intended to cause maximum discomfort. Meant to override the desire for you opponent to continue.

Damage/Immobility techniques -  causes very little discomfort until damage has been done/technique completed.  Example; arm break - causes little pain until break (lots after).  Meant to remove your opponent's ability to continue.

Hybrid techniques - causes lots of pain and discomfort, and if continued or increased, causes damage and injury.  Typically progressive.  Removes both desire and ability to continue.

Each category has it's merits.  The most important thing to know is the difference between them.  The technique that caused everyone to tap and yelp in pain in class may do nothing on the street.  Then it becomes dangerous.

If that's the case, why bother learning pain compliance only techniques it in the first place?  Well, these techniques can often be used in a proactive and preemptive way.  If a situation has yet to escalate, they can send the message that you want the person to back off and that you aren't a victim.  It can also provide a hint to a potential trouble maker that you may be capable of defending yourself.  An easy example might be the guy who, on the dance floor, has wandering hands.  The application of a quick pain compliance technique can be enough to end the situation from getting any worse without causing any injury.  Or a bouncer might escort someone out using the same ideas.

It's also important to note that it's not always appropriate to go straight to a damaging/immobilizing techniques.  In the above example, a broken arm or leg would likely be seen as excessive and against the law.

Which brings me to my favorites.  The hybrid techniques.  These are techniques that are progressive.  They start by causing the maximum amount of pain but easily lead to causing damage, injury and immobility.  Joint, arm and shoulder locks are good examples.  They hurt like hell and if given more pressure causes breaking and dislocation, resulting in more pain and immobility of that area, rendering it unusable.

In my style of Jiu Jitsu, most techniques are hybrids, meant to increase more pain and damage as the situation goes on or requires. We have a spectrum which most techniques follow.  First of all is to avoid the situation all together.  Next is to control, then to break, then to maim and so on.  Each technique follows this path and you use whatever the minimum standard is that keeps you safe given all the circumstances.

As long as you know what you are learning and why you are learning it and when you can use it, you're in good shape.  It's those people who don't understand the difference that can get in trouble.

I've personally used an escort technique that caused lots of pain but no real damage with great success.  I've also been in a situation struggling with a guy on crystal meth.  He felt no pain at all.  I could have punched him till the cows came home and it wouldn't have done much.  In the end, I got him in a shoulder lock, with him face down on the couch.  All I could do was hold him there till backup arrived.  I had immobilized him but very little else.  He felt no pain from it.  If necessary, I could have dislocated his shoulder.  He would still have kept going but he would have lost the ability to use that arm effectively.  Luckily, this wasn't needed at the time.  These are just a couple of examples of the use of different types of techniques.

I often discuss the example of finger lock techniques.  They are great techniques, painful and can easily lead to a break.  In a real fight, however, I'd take a broken finger to win the fight.  The point?  Know what techniques can be used effectively in different situations. Examine the goal and consider external factors into all your training.

I should mention, we spend far less time practicing purely pain compliance techniques than others.  And most can transition into something else, even if it's disengaging.

Some reality based martial artists will argue you shouldn't practice these techniques at all, and perhaps if you were taking a week long course, they'd be right.  However, in reality, a whole spectrum of situations present themselves, and having a few lesser techniques available may be all you need.

Food for thought.  Be safe.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Turning away students

This post is a bit of a thought in progress.  I've been pondering when you should turn away potential students from the dojo.

If a troublemaker shows up at the door, cocky and wanting to take the martial arts for the wrong reason, should you turn them away or try to work with them?  Movies are littered with stories of troubled youth involved in gangs and in trouble with the law being taken in by a martial arts teacher who turns their life around.

From my experience, this dynamic only really exists in movie land.

It's tempting to consider letting them try and then taking them down a few notches, but would that only serve to embarrass and make the situation worse?

If you don't 'put them in their place' is that fair to the other students? The dojo should be a positive experience for all, yes?

Don't get me wrong, if a troubled youth wanted to turn their life around are were seeking the arts to help them become a better person, they would be welcome.  It's the troubled ones who want to learn how to beat other people up that I'm talking about.

I'd love some thoughts on this topic.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Modern day Samurai

The idea of the Samurai, and the code of Bushido have always fascinated me.  I'm sure I'm not alone in the martial arts world on this.  I will agree that some parts are romanticized and the idea of absolute blind loyalty to a master doesn't sit well with me, but I still think we can learn from the code and modify some of the tenants to more accurately reflect modern times.

For example, I am loyal to my Sensei, but I am not blind in my loyalty.  It is because of my respect for him as a person that I am loyal, not because of the belt he holds.

There are 6 other virtues of Bushido and I think we can take away valuable lessons from each of them.

Moving beyond the virtues themselves is the Samurai mindset.  This is something deeper than the words can suggest.

A concept discussed over and over again as to why the Samurai were such effective warriors is because they embraced or accepted death every day and before any encounter.  Having accepted death, the fear of it no longer caused hesitation, mental or physical.  This made the warrior far more deadly and singular in purpose.

This concept or mindset is tough for some to accept.  No one wants to accept death.  Why would anyone take martial arts if they felt this way?  Why learn to defend yourself in the first place if you're preparing to lose?

Searching deeper, the concept is not as foreign or absurd as it might first appear.

I think of the example of a parent defending a child.  If a person's child was being hurt or attacked, that parent would defend him or her to the death.  Do you think it would matter if the person attacking was a big burly biker?  A knife wielding gang member?  A bear?

Nope.  Not one bit.

That parent would do whatever they could to save their child.  And they would fight with a singular purpose, devoid of any fear or hesitation.  And they would be fearsome and nearly unstoppable.

In this example, it's not really that the parent accepted death by a rational thought pattern.  They didn't say to themselves "It's cool if I don't make it".  They did however, have such singularity of purpose that nothing clouded the task at hand.  And that makes them one of the most dangerous opponents I can think of.

It is for this reason that I believe that everyone should do absolutely everything they can to avoid a violent encounter.  Know that there was nothing else you could do to avoid it.  Then, if it comes, fight with a mind free of doubt or fear, singular in purpose and without the fear of defeat.

Modern day Samurai indeed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


One of the most interesting training methods that I have been introduced to involves the blindfold.  Don a blindfold half way through your next class.  Practice randori of some sort without your sight.  Losing one of your senses really shows you where you truly understand a technique and where you don't.  

My Sensei constantly impresses upon me the importance of controlling myself and my opponent.  He says I need to control both my body and where my partner's body goes.  When I do a take down or a throw, I need to consciously direct or 'place' his/her body where I want it.  No exercise I know improves this more than when your are blindfolded.

First, you need to know where your attacker is.  Is he/she behind, beside or in front of you?  Is their right or left hand grabbing and/or attacking?

Second, you need to control their body.  You need to feel where their balance is, how to break it, and if you throw or take down, where they land.

Practice like this will often first result in your partner ending up across the mats, out of you reach, but with consistent practice, your technique will tighten up just as well as with your eyes open.

This training method will really put you in touch with your training partner's energy and movement.  

I have had the chance to work with a black belt who was blind.  This black belt could actually sense attacks coming in such as punches and kicks.  Once the lights in the dojo went out.  Everyone was scrambling, of course, except the black belt.  Funny to see, or not see, as the case may be.

Removing one sense really shows where you're at.  For anyone who does kata, do it blindfolded.  Do you end up in the same spot as you do when your eyes are open?

Give it a try.  I think any person in any style can benefit from the occasional blind session.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

'Stealing the technique' versus...

There are differing theories on how to teach.

Some teachers believe that you need to 'steal the technique', meaning that it's up to you as the student to watch and pick up the parts of a technique not discussed during its demonstration.

Others believe in a more open approach, discussing or showing each part to their students.

Both have advantages.  I've always enjoyed the more open approach, but recently, I've started to suspect that although my Sensei answers all my questions, he only answers the ones I ask.  There is still a process of discovering more layers to a technique, or 'stealing' the deeper stuff.

This started to come into focus when I was reading and commenting on a post over at Physics of Aiki on striking methods and methodologies.  See the post here.

The basics of discussion was whether or not the traditional Karate punch which impacts and pulls back slightly after was superior to strikes that remained extended for longer, having more penetration or 'pushing' through the target.

The thought was that the Karate punch was more likely to destroy it's intended target, but it would cause less movement or associated trauma to the receiver.

It was through this discussion that some of the secrets in my teachings started to present themselves.  I prefer the strike and retract method, pulling back my strike with nearly the same vigor that I sent it out with.  My strikes, in general, are more of the whip like variety. I use them to disorient or overwhelm my opponent, interrupting their concentration or intent.  I also use them to disable the target area, whether it be to wind my opponent, or make a limb or area unusable for a short while.

These strikes are most often used to set up my next technique, not to end a fight.  The whip like fashion returns our arm to a defensive position faster as well.

It has been my experience that most fights are not ended with a single technique.  Rarely does the first punch end it (unless it's a sucker punch, and even then, it only happens some of the time).

I used to think my Sensei had us practice the impact and retraction part to reduce the tendency for martial artists to just leave their limbs out there after an attack.  Now, researching the topic a bit more, I'm learning that the percussive manner of this type of striking is meant to interrupt your opponent's central nervous system.  The overwhelming nature of this attack overwhelms the body's and the mind's ability to react.  The attack radiates into your opponent, causing a variety of damage and sensation.  This process allows my follow up technique to be applied with a minimum of fuss or resistance.

So, now I'm starting to realize that there's more to the striking method I'm learning that what's been presented, or what I've asked about.  Looks like I'm stealing something after all...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sticky hands and the art of trapping - related point of interest

Shortly after posting my article on sticky hands (here) and the art of trapping, I read an interesting post from Sue over at My Journey to Black Belt.  Read her post here.  I feel it's noteworthy because it discusses principles over specific techniques, and it also talks about trapping and discovering the many interconnected applications of your art.

I sometimes feel we're all trying to get to the same place, we're just taking different routes to get there.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sticky hands and the art of trapping

I was discussing the concept of trapping and sticky hands over at Physics of Aiki.  See the post here.

Trapping is a very important part of many martial arts.  Too often we see techniques being demonstrated from various grabs and attacks that lack the essential component of trapping, or grabbing the delivery system.  It irks me to see a person grab the wrist of their training partner and hold on for dear life even as they receive a strike, kick, lock or throw.  The body's natural reaction to this type of stimuli is to let go, to pull away.

The style of Jiu Jitsu that I study has a lot of trapping techniques. We often practice trapping the hand or arm of the attacker so we can respond to their attack.  To use the grab as the easiest example, be it a wrist grab, lapel or even a choke, we practice grabbing the hand and simultaneously doing some form of a distraction technique, strike or attack.

From my perspective, this accomplishes several things:

1.  It removes one of your attackers weapons.

2.  It confuses your attacker, their attention becomes split between their hand and the simultaneous attack elsewhere (which then distracts them from the next part).  This confusion reduces their reaction time and makes it possible to apply a technique with little resistance.

3.  It allows you to get a sense of what your attacker is about to do next and react appropriately.

4.  At any point during this process you can disengage and re-evaluate.

So how to you train to trap, to use sticky hands and to sense your attackers next move?

I should also mention that I've been lucky enough to have studied with some very talented Kali/Escrima people.  I was drawn to them by the way they redirect their attacker's energy and rarely lose contact with them.  They constantly make contact with their opponent's hands, or specifically their wrists to manipulate their arms and or their weapons away.

For anyone interested in sticky hands and grabbing and trapping, here are a couple of  suggestions and methods I have used to work on this skill set.

First, practice a fairly traditional method of sticky hand work.  Hold one of your arms out and have your partner do the same.  Make contact with their arm.  Practice going back and forth, one person pressing forward, up and down in an attempt to grab the other. Practice not losing contact and pushing back against them.  Reverse the technique.  Try to 'feel' or sense your partners energy.  Once you get this back and forth rhythm, you can use both hands or arms. Then close your eyes and do it.

Over time, you can break the contact initially but keep the arms/hands close.  Start with slow striking or grab attempts from a short distance, but intercept your partners attack with the same concept.  Really concentrate on the concept of yourself becoming very sticky.  Visualize your partner not being able to get their hand or arm away from you unless they retreat from their attack.  Work on increasing speed and distance in the initial stages.

Another more dynamic exercise is to have the attacker don some sort of protective gloves (to avoid potential injury to you)  Have them back you up against the wall.  The purpose of this drill is for your partner to throw rapid strikes and combos, high and low at you.  Your job is to block as many of these as you can.  When you increase the speed of the attacks, you may find yourself amazed by how few attacks get through.  The ultimate purpose of this is to overwhelm your senses, the only way to react/defend is to feel or sense your opponents next attack.  It's sort of like forcing yourself into a state of Mushin, or no mind.  There is simply just not enough time to anticipate and formulate a specific response to dozens of rapid fire attacks.  You can only react.

After a while, you can come off the wall and add back and forth movement to the mix.

These are two strategies I've used with success.  There is also something difficult to describe but intrinsically part of any type of this work.  Every time I've accepted my opponents energy and 'willed' myself to be 'sticky', it's worked far more effectively.  Is it Aiki?  The force?  Ki?  I don't know.  But there's definitely something there.  One of my "glimpses of greatness", however fleeting.

Not every martial art incorporates this type of work, but I feel some of the concepts can be helpful to any martial artist.

Good luck.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quality blog link

I've been spending a bit of time over at Physics of Aiki.  The author teaches Aikido and is really examining his art to determine it's relevance in today's world.  I have stated that most traditional martial arts contain realistic and effective techniques.  It is the people and the manner in which they are taught that can be lacking.

This blog in quite interesting.  The author respects tradition and clearly love his art but he wants to make sure it is still combat effective and realistic.  He is putting his technique to the test against the real world, which I respect.

Take a look.  I think many of his thoughts apply to serious martial artists of any style.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Learning to roll

I've been thinking a lot lately about rolling.  In Jiu Jitsu we spend quite a bit of time learning how to break-fall and learning how to roll.  Both are an art in and of themselves.

Many arts do not practice how to do either.  I think this is a mistake. Rolling is a skill that every martial artist should learn, regardless of style.  I think everyone should learn at least the basics of break-falling as well, but that's a topic for another day.

Any time you involve yourself in an encounter, the possibility exists that someone will get a hold of you.  In my style, many techniques are practiced from this in close range.  Trips, take downs, throws and body drops are all skills we learn in addition to locks, breaks, kicks, strikes etc.  What I have noticed is that often when you add the component of your opponent resisting or really trying to execute an attack on you, they have a tendency to hold on.  If you aren't properly balanced, when you take them down, they may pull you over with them.  I have actually used this technique and gone with a throw just so I could pull my partner over with me, rolling them over and ending up on top of them.

If you find yourself in this position, knowing how to roll is invaluable. It is less injurious to you than a break-fall on a hard surface, it is quick and it creates both time and distance.  You end up back on your feet before your opponent knows what's going on.  It also looks cool.

It is for these reasons that I recommend anyone to at least learn the basics of rolling.  Go slow and learn how to roll safely.  Once you've got it down, you can do it pretty safely on concrete with minimal discomfort.  Even if you've only got the basics, you're more likely to emerge with only bumps and bruises vs. broken bones.  Training with resisting opponents has shown me that this scenario presents itself more often than I would have theorized.

Food for thought.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Is Aikido too pretty to work?

I like Aikido.  Always have. Readers may remember what a significant part Aikido played in my journey (even though I've never taken it.)  Many techniques are shared between Jiu Jitsu and Aikido. In many ways, Aikido was born from Jiu Jitsu.

One criticism I often hear from people watching Aikido videos is that it's too pretty.  They say it's not real since the receiver of the technique (the uke) 'throws' him/herself into the technique.  They point out that a resisting opponent wouldn't go with the technique, being thrown or rolling out of it etc.  And they're right.

What some viewers may fail to realize is that the uke throws themselves into the technique to avoid injury.  Real fighting is ugly.  If the uke resisted being thrown, more often than not one of their bones would break and they would sort of just crumple to the ground.  It is this throwing of oneself into the technique that prevents this injury.  In order to practice Aikido techniques realistically, it is absolutely necessary for practitioners to learn how to break fall and go with them.  If not, you'd only get to practice a technique once.  

In Aikido, as with any art, there are fakers out there, but it is important to separate those people who are acting from those who are trying to avoid serious injury.  There's often more than meets the eye.

It's always important to keep an open mind and to research things that are questionable before discarding them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Challenge what you know

Anyone practicing martial arts for a period of time needs to examine their chosen art.  They need to decide what they want to get out of their training.

I've stated before that I believe that most traditional martial arts are effective systems of self defense and combat, the only thing lacking in them are the mindset of the student and the quality and manner of teaching.

I study Japanese Jiu Jitsu as a reality based martial art.  I look at it as such, my Sensei teaches it as such and I am lucky that my fellow students are like minded.

I look at each technique with a critical eye.  I try to determine how effective it would be in the real world and we make sure we try it against resisting partners.  I test everything I learn against the real world.  Will it work on a big person, a drunk person, a drugged out person?

Recently,  J.C. over at Bujutsu: the Path pointed me towards a post on another blog.  This blog is written by an experienced Aikido practitioner and one post really grabbed my attention.  The central theme of the blog seems to be that the author is testing his art against reality type combat situations.  It tied in nicely to  J.C.'s post on  The Boxer.

Take a look at the following post and the video clips.  I think they're valuable to anyone, regardless of their art.  It shows a method of challenging your knowledge against a more dynamic situation.

Check out the blog post at Physics of Aiki.  It doesn't really matter if you take Aikido or not, but I respected the way they approached their training.  It's not always pretty, but I feel they came away with some valuable lessons.  And they pulled off some nice technique in the process...

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Stare...Where to look?

I've been thinking about the stare down lately.  J.C. had an interesting post on his recent meeting with a military boxer.  See that post here.  It got me thinking about different ideas on where to look when you're involved in conflict.

I'm undecided on the topic.  The big three options I see are:

1.  Look your opponent in the eyes.
2.  Unfocused gaze, settling in the chest area, but looking through or beyond.
3.  Watch the hands.

All three have their advantages and disadvantages.

1.  Looking your opponent in the eyes - 

Advantages - This can be intimidating if you have a good mean look.  It can also show a lack of any fear (ideal state in my mind) which can shake your opponents confidence.  It is often possible to sense an attack before it's thrown.

Disadvantages - You could get intimidated by your opponent.  You may be slower to recognize an incoming attack from an outer limb.  Your opponent may be able to sense your intended attack.

2.  Unfocused gaze, focus on chest area, but looking through or beyond -

Advantages - You get the whole picture of your opponents body, you can detect movement more quickly from this unfocused state.  It can be unsettling to your opponent if they can't get a 'read' on you.

Disadvantages - May be interpreted as a sign of weakness.  Can't read your opponents intent.

3.  Watch the hands - 

Advantages - The hands are the delivery system for most attacks, especially weapon related.  Watch the hands and most times, you'll see the start of any attack.  You won't get 'stared down' if you aren't looking.

Disadvantages - Can't read your opponents intent.  Can't 'psyche' them out.  You might miss a head-but coming in or be slower to detect a kick.

If I look someone in the eyes, it's to show that if necessary, I will prevail.  I 'will' them to know that I am prepared to do what it takes.  A calm confident gaze is what I try to use.

If I use an unfocused gaze, it's usually in anticipation of a physical altercation that I couldn't avoid.  I can then see my opponents body as a whole and can usually see anything coming a tiny bit sooner.

If I watch the hands, it's because I'm not sure if my opponent has a weapon of some sort tucked away.  If he/she is going to pull something, I can't be involved in a stare down at the time.

This is not to say that all these approaches can't be used in any given situation.  My gaze may shift back and forth depending on the surroundings and my own threat assessment.  

I'd love to hear what others think on this topic and why.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Being choked - a realistic approach to a dangerous attack

I was surfing around YouTube the other day, watching clips of various martial arts and artists in actions.  I stumbled across some choke defenses being demonstrated.  It struck me how silly some of the techniques being taught are, and how poorly they were being taught.

I was watching one clip of a teacher showing a student what to do if they were on the receiving end of a choke, from the front.  In this particular clip, it was a large man choking a petite woman.  The defense she was demonstrating was to put her index and middle finger together, reach up over the attacker's arms, turn her hand upside down (like an upside down gun) and then to push the two fingers into the attackers throat.  He immediately let go, stumbling backwards as her fingers found their mark in that lovely little niche at the bottom of the throat.

They were smiling.  She laughed, I expected high fives all around.  He said something along the lines of "See how easy it is?"

Well, it's not really that easy.

Chokes are serious business.  If someone is choking you, they are trying to hurt you.  They may be trying to kill you, or rape you.  Chokes also come on quick and a talented person can put you unconscious in a matter of seconds.

Any defense techniques being taught need to be realistic, effective and fast.  The technique being taught in the video can work, but in order for it to do so, you must not be off balance, you must have some finger strength, it must be done properly, (in and down to the throat) and the attacker must not be tensed up or have put their chin down.  That's a lot to ask or figure out when you may have only a second or two to react, if that.

The most important thing to do is teach yourself to react instantly and instinctively the second someones hands go on your throat.  The only real advantage we have here is that someone choking you is not something that's ever o.k. (outside the dojo). You don't need to try to figure out what your attacker's motives are.  It's not something like a bump or a slap on the back or a grab that might not actually be threatening or too serious given the circumstances.  A choke means bad intentions.

There are lots of good techniques out there but the two key points in my mind are to:

1.  React instantly.  Do something.  Anything.  And do it hard.
2.  Tuck your chin (it'll buy you a second or two before you go unconscious)

These aren't really two separate steps as both need to be done at the same time.

The point of this post is not to evaluate what techniques will and won't work.  It's purpose is to point out the necessity to train realistically for one of the most dangerous attacks there are.  Gross motor skills are probably the way to go as being choked is a high stress traumatic event.  Degradation of fine motor skills is rapid with the loss of blood and oxygen to the brain.  Don't be timid, you may only get one chance.  Lights out = Game over.  So train as if your life depends on it, because if you're being choked, it just might.

Still have fun in your training, of course, but be aware of the need to really consider what it is you're practicing defending against when you train.

Be safe.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Looks good on paper...

Every art, every style, and every teacher looks at fighting and combat in somewhat different ways.  There are subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, differences in approach, technique and range.  Each has strengths and weaknesses and I always enjoy learning about the reasons behind these approaches.

What I have learned is that many of these concepts are tough to argue with, they make so much sense that to argue would almost be silly...providing you know you are in a fight.

A whole bunch of years ago I had a conversation with a Tae Kwon Do black belt.  This person was tough, fast and good.  That is not the point of this post.

One of the things this black belt was telling me about was his theory on combat range.  He held his hands out in a circle in front of him, showing an imaginary zone or area that no opponent could get to.  His theory, and it had some merit, was that in combat, he would destroy anything that entered this 'personal zone'.  In playful sparring, he demonstrated this quite effectively, striking any part of my body that came close to him.  He was also big on kicks, since the legs are longer and stronger than other body parts.

I couldn't, and still can't, fault his logic completely.  His ideas were sound, providing you know you are in a fight.

Now, many years later, I'm reminded of this conversation.  Interestingly, the chat started when we were in a busy bar.  Looking back, I find it somewhat humorous that many of the people around us at the time were within this 'personal zone'.

Some arts practice a lot of in-close techniques, mine included.  We have many defenses and responses to grabs, chokes, pushes, punches etc.  Lots start from the position of another person having grabbed you or grabbing for you.  I would love to think that one day I could keep any opponent from getting that close.

Reality suggests this isn't always possible, even when you are paying attention to your surroundings.  Look around you and your day to day activities.  How often are you standing in a line, on public transit, in a bar, a movie theater, a store of any kind etc?  Modern life tends to pack us together.

If you train in the martial arts with a reality based mindset, it's important to train for the most likely type of attack.  I love the theory that my black belt friend talked about but feel it may be unrealistic to respond to an unprovoked or unanticipated attack.  Once you know you are in a fight and have enough space to move then yes, he's right.  Is that the way most attacks occur?  Absolutely not.  It sure looked good on paper, though.

We can't prepare for every eventuality, but we must make sure we train realistically and focus on the most likely type of conflict we might encounter.

Be safe.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Knife fighting and defense

Knives fascinate and scare me.  Most good guys I know carry a knife of some sort.  Most bad guys also carry a knife.  There's out there.  And they're dangerous.

I've touched upon knife defense in the past.  I have serious concerns with how knife defense is being taught in some martial arts.  Often, the techniques are unrealistic, or the students don't take them seriously enough or both.  Knife attacks aren't static events, knives are retracted, slashes are repeated etc.  We also don't always know that a knife in involved until we've already been cut.

Two exercises I highly recommend as either a reality check or to test your skills and techniques to make sure you are on the right track are:

1.  Wear a white t-shirt, give your opponent a red marker simulating a blade and get them to attack you.  See how many red marks you end up with.

2.  Train with a live blade.  Obviously, care must be taken, but it sure shows you how seriously you were taking the wooden blade you were training with (or whatever you use).

I came across the following video from Paul Vunak on YouTube on knife philosophy.  I feel it contains a lot of good points.  One item of particular note for me is the idea of attacking the attackers hands as part of your defense.  It's something I've been working on for some time and can be translated to a variety of different weapons.  If they can't hold it, they can't use it.

Here's the video:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Circles - Learning and Teaching.

The new student starts training. 
The new student is paired with a senior student to work on technique.  
The new student struggles.  
The senior student guides, suggests and helps.
The new student apologizes for not getting it.
The senior student smiles to themselves and guides, suggests and helps.
The new student apologizes for holding the senior student back from their training.
The senior student smiles to themselves and guides, suggests and helps.
The new student feels they've wasted the senior students time.
The senior student knows that they've gotten more from this practice than the new student, so they smile to themselves and continue to guide, suggest and help.

The new student won't understand this until they are a senior student.

We often talk of circles, be it technique or concepts or life itself.  The above example, to me, is a great example of the circle that is learning and teaching.

Teaching others is one of the greatest ways to improve your own skills.  You get to re-discover the techniques, you break them down again.  Each time you do this, you have the potential to unlock more of the secrets contained in any given technique.  

There are some people who can apply techniques so effortlessly and effectively that they seem nearly magical or mystical in their execution.  You try to do it and it may work, but not nearly as well.  What makes the difference?  Essentially you are doing the same movement, using the same tools, but the result isn't the same.  

'Advanced techniques are just the basics done better'.  

Other than with teaching, rarely do we have the opportunity or take the time to go back to the start, to question and re-examine what we already know and do with little thought or effort.  Doing so may be one of the keys to truly improve and move on to the next level of skill and knowledge.   And moving on to this next level makes us better teachers.  And being a better teacher improves our skills and knowledge.  

And so the circle repeats...