Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part III - Learn to Attack

Most martial arts schools focus more on the what to do when you are attacked, not how to attack.  This makes sense on many levels.  After all, it's self defense, not attacking 101.

Not spending enough time on learning how to attack properly can be a big mistake.  Properly is a poor choice of words, learning how to attack realistically is what's important.

I've touched upon this on a couple occasions, and discussed the importance of being a good uke, but I haven't really explored the gap in attacking.

I posed the question in my knife survival series (yes, I'll be posting again on it soon).  I asked readers to imagine a scenario where you were forced to attack or 'take somebody out'.  You had no knowledge of their skills or abilities and you had no choice.  Would you face off, using measured practiced attacks to beat them, or would you take one big swing in hopes that it was all that was needed?  Most people would go for the big single attack.  There are very few people so confident in their abilities that they would not be concerned about the unknown factor of who the other person is or what they know.

And most people that are going to attack you, to rob you, or try to boost themselves up in a drunk or drug induced state, will opt for the big committed attack.

If we accept this to be true, then we need to learn how to attack like this.  I've stated on several occasions that you should spend the majority of your time training to deal with the most likely form of attack, and the most likely form of attacker.  To do anything else is to do yourself a disservice.  

The attacks we defend from in martial arts study are often unrealistic.  It's understandable really.  The act of attacking is so foreign to many practitioners, teachers and students alike, that I can't really blame them.

Most martial artists don't practice unprovoked attacks.  That's because most martial artists, TMA, RBS or MMA, aren't the sort of folks that want to harm, rob or hurt innocent people.  

The problem, then, is that we don't practice in a way that mimics the adrenaline fuelled encounters that we are most likely to face in the real world.

When the attacks aren’t realistic, the defences aren’t either.  Take the straight punch – How much time have you spent learning how to defend against it?  Or the reverse punch.  Or any attack from a deep stance etc.  It doesn't really matter which style you study, I'm sure you can identify any number or unrealistic attacks you spend time on defending.  That, combined with getting into the trap of only learning defenses to techniques in your own style.  I recently posted on how many styles are great at defending against themselves.  They stay in their own framework, playing within their own set of 'rules', if you will.  And rules tend to water down the effectiveness of any martial art system. 

It's important to research realistic attacks.  The internet can be a good source of information, just try to make sure that what you research is from a reputable source.  Read the news.  Consider seeking out people who are exposed to real violence, most likely through profession, who offer seminars or courses on personal protection.  Basically, find out what you actually might face, and practice responding, or defending, from that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part II

In Part I of this discussion, the gap or disconnect between the reality of violence and martial arts instruction was touched upon, as an overview.

There are many fantastic benefits of martial arts study such as fitness, fun, friendship, discipline, confidence etc.

My concerns and issues relate to pure, raw self defense applicability.

The first broad area I touched upon was techniques.  I don't feel that the actual mechanics of martial arts techniques are to blame.  Sure, there are some flowery moves that are pretty to watch and largely ineffective, but by and large, most techniques stand up.  They are the core course of study in most martial arts.  As long as they have been interpreted correctly, they work. And most of them have been around for awhile.  A long while.  Enough said.

Techniques work only if they are understood and you know how to apply them. This is the first gap.  Many people, teacher and students included, don't really understand how, or when, to use a technique.  Not only that, they do not understand what will happen to their opponent, or to them, once it is applied.

Too many techniques are taught in isolation.  They are static in nature.  The opponent, (uke), often doesn't move at you or resist your actions.  The start, or entry, into the technique essentially starts from nowhere.  Usually, both parties stand there, face to face, and a grab or attack begins.  No movement, no approach by either party.  This lack of movement can have a significant impact on the applicability of a response.  How often does a real encounter begin with two people standing calmly face to face?  Try any number of your techniques on a rapidly approaching individual and see how your response must change or adapt.  Even for those who do use some advancing movement in the initiation of attack, how often is the advance on an angle? from the side? from behind? from a rapid approach?  Run at your opponent next time and see what changes.

Next, it's important to understand what is going to happen to your opponent when you apply a technique. Are they going to collapse, fall backwards, lurch forward etc?  You need to know this so you don't end up off balance, or having your attacker crash into you.  Also, what's next?  Have you just made them tap?  Have your really improved your position?  Can you get away? Have you done enough to make yourself safe, or have you set yourself up for the next move?  You need to understand more than just how to put a technique on.  You need to understand the before, during and after effects of what you are doing.

When you apply a technique other than kicks and punches, while it's important for your opponent to tap, you should not immediately let go.  You should ease up and continue the motion to see it through to it's conclusion.  Stay in control of the individual.  In a real attack, it's unlikely your opponent will tap, and even if they do, that doesn't mean you let go.  You need to end up in a position of advantage where you can either continue on or disengage, depending on the circumstances.


I've seen people do disarms in real situations and start to hand the weapon back to the attacker, so programmed were they from their training. (did that sound a bit like Yoda?)

So don't let go when your opponent taps, just ease up.  The reason we tap in the martial arts is so we're not programmed to let go when someone yells out in pain or shouts stop!

In the next part, I'll discuss why it's just as important to learn how to attack as it is to defend.

Be safe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mind the Gap - A discussion on the disconnect between the reality of violence and martial arts teachings - Part I

There is a growing gap between reality, the nature of violence, and martial arts training.  This gap is not exclusive to traditional martial arts (TMA), reality based systems (RBS) or mixed martial arts (MMA).  

Why is this happening?  What's wrong with the martial arts? 

Is it the techniques?  
Is it the application? 
Is it a matter of understanding?
Is it a matter of motivation?
Is it the teachers?
Is it the students?


The least serious offender are the techniques themselves.  A punch hurts, joints only bend so many ways, the body follows pain etc.  Most techniques will work, at least somewhat, if used in the right circumstances.

Application and Understanding:

These next two are part a big part of the problem.  Techniques only work if they are applied correctly, and if you understand how and when they will be effective.  If you don't take into account movement, momentum, desire, skill and action vs. reaction, then attempts at applying techniques are unlikely to be successful.  If you don't understand what happens after you apply a technique or as you apply it, you'll also be in a tough spot.


This may be the biggest issue forcing a gap between truly effective realistic training and what is being passed off as 'real stuff'.  This sounds very critical but I'll explain this more in depth later on.  This is the mind part, the 'why you're doing what you're doing' and your desired outcome.


Teachers can definitely be part of the problem, but from what I've seen, it's rarely a lack of physical skill that is to blame, any shortcomings come back to application, understanding and motivation.


Normally we think of students as being hapless participants in the process.  If they are lucky enough to find a great teacher, they benefit, if they find a poor teacher, they didn't know better.  Now, it can often be challenging to find a good teacher if you have no real experience or understanding of the nature of violence, but the student needs to take an active role in being responsible for the type and quality of their training.  They need to focus on figuring out their motivation.  Why are they taking martial arts in the first place?

Does this mean everything is flawed?  No.  What it does mean is that we need a deeper examination of what we are doing and more importantly, why we are doing it.

The next part will discuss some of the things that I've been seeing in the world of martial arts and why they are of concern.  I'll also delve more deeply into the points I've just raised and discuss strategies for closing the gap.

Train smart.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Busy times

I haven't been posting quite as often lately.  I'm going through a particularly busy and exhausting time in my life.  There's simply not enough hours in the day.  I've got lots of topics in the 'hopper' and anticipate having some more time freed up in the near future to post a bit more regularly.

So thanks for all your support and stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Sue C from My Journey to Black Belt is the proud new owner of a black belt. She and her husband tested this last weekend and they were both successful.

It's a fantastic accomplishment and I couldn't be happier for her.  I encourage you all to congratulate her (and hubby) and to read her blog if you haven't visited before.

Way to go Sue!  I look forward to the next leg in your journey.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Be a Baby, a Ninja Baby - The Feldenkrais Method

Michele had a interesting post over on Just a Thought about roll falls.  I made a brief comment that I wanted to expand upon.

Babies and toddlers know how to fall.  The know how to move, reach, roll, lift. and move around (after the hilarious awkward stage).  Their movements and their breathing are natural and relaxed.  They 'belly breathe', from their diaphragm, a much more efficient and effective manner of breathing.  When a toddler falls, they manage to relax and get real low to the ground before the impact.  They also don't shoot their hands out like adults tend to do (and break their wrists in the process).  When they lift, their spines stay aligned, back straight, eyes up, bending at the knees...perfect form.

There's a lot to learn from observing young ones and their movements.

Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), who created the Feldenkrais Method was an avid martial artist who studied Judo and Jiu Jitsu. He studied movement, health, and taught an integrated method of re-learning how to move naturally and easily as an adult.  Much of his work was influenced by studying the natural effortless movement of children.  He developed an integrated approach, bringing together body, mind and overall awareness.

Here's a link with some information from wikipedia.  There is so much out there on the man and the method that you may want to plug the Feldenkrais method into your computer.

The method was not designed solely for the martial artist, but a point of interest is that several high ranking Ninjutsu practitioners have incorporated this method of awareness of movement into their training.

Taijutsu, most often associated as the martial portion of Ninjutsu, is most accurately translated to mean:

"Taijutsu - , literally meaning "body skill" or "body art", is a term for Japanese martial arts techniques that rely on a set of body movements. Historically, the word taijutsu was often used interchangeably with jujutsu (as well as many other terms) to refer to a range of grappling skills." - wikipedia.

Since the Japanese martial arts rely heavily on body movements, the Feldenkrais method fits in very well.

I encourage you to research the Feldenkrais method a bit.  And to observe the effortless way that toddlers can move.  I have only scratched the surface on the method and am in no way an authority on the topic but since it is all about movement and integration of the mind and body, it is impossible not to see the direct connection to martial arts study.

And just for fun:

Train well.  And welcome Mohammad.