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.