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...