Sunday, March 27, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part VII - The flinch

Learning how to incorporate the body's natural 'flinch' response into knife survival training (or any martial arts training) may be one of the more misunderstood aspects of study.

Over the last several years, more and more martial arts practitioners have been looking at the 'flinch' or 'startle' response with a view to building on it, rather than fighting to overcome it.

I read a very good article over at The Way of Least Resistance on this topic. It's definitely worth a read.

There are several talented reality based instructors out there touting the flinch response and how to build it into attack response and defense.  Most of the training is good.  Tony Blauer's course is one such example.

The biggest single issue I have with flinch response training is that many instructors mistakenly believe that the flinch response used during practice is the one that you would instinctively revert to when surprised.  It most often involves covering up and pulling back.  This seems like the body's natural response to a surprise attack, but it is flawed. It's actually the body's instinctive response to a known surprise attack.  

Known surprise attack???  What the heck does that mean?

That means you know an attack is coming.  The attack may vary, you may not know exactly what's coming, but you know something is.  The typically taught flinch response is a good sort of 'catch all' which minimizes the chances of injury and responds to a variety of variations within an attack.  There's nothing wrong with this, except that it assumes you know you're involved in an altercation.

There is only one true flinch response.  It's the one that occurs when you are taken off guard and completely by surprise.  And it only happens once (per situation).

There's no point in trying to fight this one, it happens on an instinctive level. Learning to use it is another thing altogether.  It is my theory that many traditional martial arts build on this instinctive response in the design of the techniques themselves.  My study of this continues.

So, what does this instinctive response look like?  More often than not, it includes a striking out, or pushing out at the perceived threat.  Portions of the body will pull back from the threat, the body will curve away from an abdomen attack, or the head will pull back from a face attack.  

The hands, however, will shoot out towards the threat, as if trying to knock it away or provide some sort of barrier between the threat and the body.

This is especially important to know and significant when it comes to knife survival.  The conceal-ability of knives, and the nature of knife attackers, increase the odds of a surprise attack.  It is therefore essential to recognize what the flinch response is, what it looks like, and how to use it to your advantage.

Any realistic knife survival training needs to work on this.  It is incumbent on instructors to have an understanding of this and to research the flinch response.   

One of the advantages of this instinctive response is that it naturally transitions quickly and easily into realistic knife survival skills.  One of the areas where I agree with mainstream thinking for knife defense is that gaining control of the knife of the knife bearing limb is crucial for survival.  (There are exceptions, of course, but in general the thinking is sound)  The beauty of the flinch response is that your body's natural reaction puts you exactly in the position to do just that.  The vital areas of the body have been protected, or moved out of range, but your hands are touching or are very close to the threat.  

On this level, there is no point in trying to override thousands of years of evolution.  The flinch response occurs on a unconscious level, so you may as well let nature lend a helping hand.

I encourage everyone to learn about the flinch response and to make sure that training takes this into account.  Due to the one-time nature of the instinctive response, it's important to understand how you will react when taken by surprise.  That way, you can drill responses from the position you're most likely to find yourself in.  I don't want to discount any system or teachers out there, but some instructors have applied a conscious pattern of thought in coming up with what they believe would be the instinctive response to an attack.  The truth is, it all occurs on a more basic level, and it happens faster than the cognitive mind can process.  

Train safely.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TMA versus MMA and being a good uke

I imagine the debate between what is better, traditional martial arts or mixed martial arts, of for that matter, reality based martial arts.  
Of course, there is no real clear cut answers.  Each have strengths and weaknesses.  I suspect there really isn't as much of a gap between the arts.  The quality of the teacher and the mindset of the student are the most important elements.

To touch on the TMA vs. MMA debate:

One argument in favor of MMA is that there are resisting opponents.  The lack of uncooperative training partners is often this is cited as one of the main failing in some traditional systems.  And I agree, it a point.

The cooperative partner is a problem, yes. Operating under the illusion that your opponent will be compliant is not only unrealistic, but dangerous

This is why the effective use of distraction, or softening techniques, and a corresponding understanding of the body's reaction to pain is essential to practice realistically.  If this is not covered then MMA is probably a good idea because at least you've experienced some form of a struggle or a fight (albeit with a low chance of injury, it has rules after all).

In my opinion, if you understand action and reaction, then non 'rules based' traditional systems are superior.   It's just harder to judge the outcome for those who have never used any of the techniques in a real environment or in real confrontations.

Having said that, one of the biggest challenges in TMA is how to train realistically. After all, how can you practice an elbow joint lock and break against a resisting partner?  Overcoming the resistance ends with a broken elbow.

That why learning and practicing to
be a good uke is so important.  

The use of a responsible amount of force in the softening techniques will illicit at least a moderate realistic physical response, allowing you and your partner to learn to react appropriately to the application of a technique.  

Mix it up so the uke doesn't know where you'll hit, pinch, kick, or slap next.  This will give a reasonably accurate marker of the natural pain and shock response.

If you don't study how a resisting partner will react to pain, distraction, techniques and follow up, you're really only studying half of what you need to know.

MMA has a lot going for it.  Working with a resistant partners is sometimes overlooked in TMA circles.  MMA is also very demanding and great for fitness, timing and sport fighting.  It's also very entertaining.  Hey, I'm a fan who watches the events.  

For those who don't have access to teachers who understand the body, pain, action and reaction, adrenaline and stress, MMA may be the better choice.  After all, you get a peek at all these areas, all the time.  

The bottom line though, is that MMA is too geared towards the safety of the participants to be deemed a truly effective system for actual street combat.  TMA is superior to MMA for effectively responding to real violence, but only if the teacher and student understand the cause and effect of the techniques being learned.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) vs. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

I'll have lots more on this topic in the future, but I came across an interesting comment made on another blog by a fella by the name of Ed ( I have no other details)

"We are not talking about "TMAs v. MMAs" here. What we are talking about is separating the "Sports" or "Hobbies" from the path of warriorship. A warrior wears no label. He honestly inventories his surroundings and threats and compares them to the tools he already possesses. If his arsenal contains an effective response, great, he works to perfect the employment of that tool. If it does not, he MUST (because he is a warrior, not a student of a specific style) seek out an answer to the problem. If that search crosses the TMA/MMA border in either direction, so be it."

I could not agree more.  For all the arguing and discussion out there, it really all just boils down to finding what works, for you.

To whoever Ed is, thanks for the insight.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Observations and Connections

A while back I commented on the fact that I often watch people so wrapped up in their mobile devices that they have no idea what is going on around them. They have no awareness of their surroundings.

Our society is changing.  Facebook, Twitter, texts.  instant messaging, the internet, the list goes on.  People, especially young people, are spending an enormous amount of time desperately trying to be part of something, to feel connected to others. I've only read a few articles on this topic and I plan to learn more.

What I find peculiar is that this very desire to connect with others, this need to be part of other people's lives 24/7 is actually preventing real connections from being made with people that are present.  How many times has someone you're talking to held up their hand to check their phone or mobile device? How many times have you seen two or three young people together that are obviously friends or classmates, and they're all heads down in their phones. They are ignoring each other to find about or communicate with other people.

Is the overpowering desire to be connected to a larger and larger group of people actually preventing us from having real substantial relationships?  I'm kind of worried that it is.

This isn't really a martial arts post, but it's something that's been on my mind. Any thoughts are welcome.

Here's to keeping it real.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Knife Survival Series - Part VI - Play-fighting / Realistic training

One of the most challenging parts to learning and delivering knife survival skills is the fact that no matter what you do, it’s still a form of play-fighting.  With no real inherent risk in the activity, it is difficult to mimic, or account for, the realities of true violence, both on the part of the one attacking and the one reacting.  One way to get a taste of reality is to use live blades in your training (carefully!!!).  

Unfortunately, this only makes it real for the person being attacked, not for the attacker, who remains in a safe environment.

I’ve already discussed that the most likely form of knife attacks from the most likely form of attackers are big slashing or big stabbing movements. (Part IV)

Some (often well meaning) folks will say that this is unrealistic, that knife attacks will be a flurry of multiple combinations of well executed cuts and slashes.  In some knife seminars that will be followed by a demonstration of all the fancy stuff that can be learned.

In this safe environment, it’s still a form of play fighting.  In reality, even these skilled individuals are likely to revert to the big slashing and stabbing movements under combat stress.

They important question is why?

There are several reasons:

1.  Stress itself.  The stress response covered in Part V plays a big part.

2.  Confidence.  For most people, no matter how much training they've done, they've never actually sliced somebody up.  For all the theory and practice, the techniques just haven't been battle tested.  Unless the attacker has repeatedly attacked people with knives and then assessed the results and adjusted to maximize the effectiveness, it remains a 'see what happens' type of scenario.  

What we all know, on a baser level, is that big power moves work.  We've learned this from childhood.  When you powerfully smash something, it usually has a degree of success.

And when the stakes are high- What if they fight back?  Pull their own knife? Or gun?  What if I get caught?  Then the natural process is to revert back to what you know.

3.  Commitment.  Most (and I say most) people have not consciously decided to straight up kill the other person.  Even knowing it's a possibility, usually it's not the end goal.  If someone's only goal is to end your life, it will be challenging to defend.  Most criminals have an ulterior motive of some sort that reduces their focus and commitment to the attack.  If it's a means to an end, you stand a better chance.

This doesn't only apply only to knife attacks.  

Question:  (Think about this, and answer honestly)  

If you were suddenly forced to go rob, knock out, stab or club another person randomly on the street, what approach would you take?  They could be bigger than you, smaller than you, trained, untrained, or armed.  You just don't know. Would you be confident and calm enough to approach, not hide your intentions, and engage them face to face, relying on your training to take care of anything they could dish out?  Or would you try for a sneaky or powerful one punch (hit, club, stab) knockout? 

I think you know what most people would do.

This is one of the major factors that make big slashing and stabbing movements the most likely form of attack from the most likely form of attacker. This must be addressed in knife survival training. Without this understanding or realization, it's likely that you'll spend the bulk of your time play fighting and practicing responses to attacks that probably would never happen.  (strategies for dealing with skilled knife attackers will be covered in future articles)

One of the next articles in this series will be on incorporating the 'flinch response' in spontaneous knife survival training and will discuss some of the more common misconceptions about the body's natural response to an unscripted attack.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Japanese Jiu Jitsu: A Journey - 100 and 1

I was working on a different post when I glanced at the sidebar of my blog and realized that my last article was #100.  So I guess it's an anniversary of sorts. It's also almost been a year since my first blog post.  I'm surprised to say that if anything, I have more thoughts that I'd like to record than when I started.

Some observations as the birthday approaches:

1.  This blog was originally intended to chronicle my training.  It does that, of course, but now it's far less about what we did on any particular night, and more about the take away lessons, thoughts, concepts and principles.  This blog is something more than I had originally intended, and I'm happy about that.  The act of writing has often opened up or clarified some of the things I have been struggling with.

2.  It's more work than I expected.  This is not a complaint, as it's a labour of love, but it's more time consuming than I could have guessed.

3.  I've met friends on other blogs.  I've received invaluable feedback for different sources and I'm grateful.  I've been supported, questioned and challenged on material and think that's fantastic.  I've yet to encounter anyone with any malice and it's great to hear other people's opinions.

4.  Serious martial artists have many similarities.  I regularly interact with people from styles that are significantly different than traditional Jiu Jitsu.  It has surprised me how many similarities there are when people really explore their training goals.  I now believe that we're all trying to go to the same place, we're just using different ways to get there.

5.  It's always nice to see a comment or a new follower.  Commenting on other people's blogs is nearly as important as producing quality content yourself.

6.  You can see what the most recent comments on your blog under the comments tab of a blogspot blog.  This sounds kind of dumb, but I only recently discovered it.  Sadly, I had missed out on some comments people took the time to make on older posts in my blog not knowing this.  To anyone who did make a comment and didn't get a response within a few days, I apologize.

7.  There is an incredible amount of great material out there and fantastic blogs.  It is often hard to keep up with all the quality information out there and differing opinions.

I have a great deal of respect for anyone who keeps up a quality blog. Thanks for keeping my reading list perpetually full.

To all those out there who follow, comment, or just visit, thank you very much. I hope my material continues to provide some value.

It'll be interesting to see what the next 100 brings...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The super deadly, green beret commando ninja samurai spartan apache viking fighting system.

Yours for only $5000.00!!!  You give us a weekend and we'll make you more deadly than any warrior in history!  Order in the next 30 minutes and you'll receive the very special "Look out, my stare will set you on fire" t-shirt.  Yours absolutely free!

I've been reading a bunch of interesting stuff on the explosion of the highly commercialized, 'fear no human' type of crash course being offered.  Secret military systems, previously hidden from the public, that sort of thing.  Sue at My Journey to Black Belt got me examining this big business a bit more closely.  I've read some interesting posts over at the No Nonsense Self Defense site, and recently at the Practical Budo blog.  The Chiron blog also talks about some of these issues.  I've agreed with a fair amount of their material.

Here are some of the things I've been thinking about or have come away with from those sources.

1.  Many (I suspect most) 'systems' out there offered in this manner are irresponsible.  They do nothing to address the legal ramifications of your actions, what is justifiable and when.

2.  They are mainly based on pure aggression, on repeated, feral-like attacks. Avoidance, control, escape, these things barely get a mention.  Too often they are labelled as 'defense' when there is nothing of the sort to be found.  I once went to a knife defense seminar.  It was interesting, and the instructor was very talented, but what I learned was how to fillet another person and deliver multiple fatal stabs and slashes.  Puncturing lungs, slicing arteries, cutting tendons, that sort of thing.  Not much defending there.  If it had been billed as a knife fighting seminar or how to end an encounter with a knife, that would be different.  The title was misleading.

3.  The military type courses, if legitimate, are designed to incapacitate or kill another person.  They are designed for combat.  What the average person is taking these courses for, I have no idea.  For those that aren't legitimate, they're mainly just mechanisms to separate a fool from his/her money. Ground fighting should be addressed, but more and more these military systems are BJJ based, not necessarily the most realistic or effective approach for military application.  Most military systems do not advocate deliberately going to the ground.  Your adversary may be put there on purpose, but it's not the preferred range for fighting.

4.  It's not possible to pick up a system in a few days.  If the teacher is any good, the safe bet is that they've been involved in the martial arts for years, maybe decades.  If these crash courses could really teach you to be the deadliest warrior in two days, I doubt the instructors would need more than a few weeks to become the 'masters', a month tops...

5.  There's an interesting thing that happens when people are worked hard. Many of these courses exercise the crap out of the attendees.  This physical challenge and group success (or group suffer) somehow makes the mind connect the exertion to the material.  The act of working really hard somehow adds legitimacy to the material.  If the course was tough, it must have been the real deal.  This is often not the case.

 "It's easier to instill confidence than competence"  (Rory Miller) - I love that!

6.  Whoever is teaching better know what they're doing.  If you decide to spend your money, research the instructor.  Have they walked the walk? Theories are great, putting them into practice is another story altogether.  A legitimate instructor won't mind the inquires.  Movements must have reasons and provide an advantage to you.  If an instructor has no understanding of the material or the physics of the matter, be wary.  For each action, there is a reaction.  Make sure they know what they are.

7.  Quick fixes are tempting.  Sometimes I even find myself wondering if there might be something out there that I don't know about.  Bottom line is that there is no substitute for dedicated study.

It's easy to get swept up in a flashy add campaign, promising unrealistic results.  You can't become a martial artist overnight.  You can, however, learn to hurt people relatively quickly.  When you are free from any moral, ethical or legal constraints, it's easy.

Most people, I suspect, do not enter into training solely for this purpose.  Most of us aspire to more.  If life was full of black and white life or death situations, perhaps these crash courses would be just the right thing.  The real world is not so simple, and we need to learn a variety of strategies to deal with a whole spectrum of conflict and violence.

I'm not saying don't take one of these courses, and I'm not saying some aren't the real deal.  Just make sure the contents of the package match the bill of sale.

These are just some of my thoughts, and some thoughts of others that I happen to agree with.

Train well.