Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You fight as you train. And what's with the tap?

In my last post on the dangers of point sparring,  I referenced the fact that we will fight how we train.  I’ve said this before in previous posts, but it bears repeating.

The discussion I had in the comments section inspired this post. 

First, why do we tap?

Tapping out is fairly common in the martial arts, but what are the reasons we use it?

There are two main reasons that we use the tap.

  1. It’s universal.  No language barrier exists.  Train anywhere in the world in most arts, and the tap is understood.  It’s also audible and tactile (I recommend tapping your opponent whenever possible, just in case they don't hear you tapping madly on your own body).
  2. We fight as we train. 
When you train long enough, you get certain moves or techniques burned into your head.  In fact, this is one of the purposes of continued repetitive training movements.  It’s so they become ingrained in your body and mind.  This is usually a good thing.

Since we fight as we train, we tap instead of saying Stop! or Ouch!, or yelling out.  If we trained using the word stop whenever a technique was applied, we would be subconsciously teaching ourselves to let go when someone said stop or yelled out.  In a real fight where you are forced to defend yourself, this is the last thing you’d want to do.  

This brings me to another important point.

When your opponent taps, never just let go.  It is extremely important to only ease up on whatever technique you are applying.  You need to keep the technique on.  In a real violent encounter, you need to stay in control.  If you practice by letting go when someone taps, you are conditioning yourself to do so whenever you hear or feel a tap.

You never know, someone on the street might tap in a real situation.  I might, only because I am so conditioned to tap when a technique is about to injure me. 

In the discussion over my last post, I told the story of a police officer who practiced a specific gun disarming technique repeatedly.  After each successful disarm, he handed the gun back to his training partner and repeated the drill.

This officer later had an encounter on the road where a suspect pointed a gun at him.  The officer, from his extensive practice, was successful in using the gun disarming technique that he had drilled over and over.  The only problem was that he started to hand the gun back to the bad guy. 

He caught himself in time, but it was a valuable lesson.  He fought as he had trained. 

As a result, the training program was re-vamped.  This disarming technique remained but officers were trained to take control of the person after they had disarmed them or to create time and distance or obtain cover etc.  It never ended with handing the weapon back.

We will fight as we train, so we need to think about how we are training.  The tap, while a great tool, does not mean let go, it just means ease off but stay in control.  Your mind under stress we revert to your training.

Training can, and should, be an enjoyable experience.  While practicing, however, you need to keep a serious mindset and understand what bad habits you may be burning into your psyche.

Train well. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The dangers of point sparring

While valuable, point sparring has some limitations, and if overdone, can have serious consequences when it comes to real self defense.

Point based sparring can be a great workout.  You can improve your timing and experiment with angles and distance.  It can also improve your ability to identify your opponent’s ‘tells’.  That’s all great.

Overuse, however, can ingrain dangerous habits.  For one, point sparring has a set of rules for what you can and can’t do.  In the real world, excluding certain targets is dangerous.  You’ve got to use whatever is available at the time.  Even more serious is the very nature of point sparring.  You train yourself to stop when you land a point.  You fight as you train.  The last thing you want in a real violence situation is to strike and then stop, waiting for a ref to restart the match.

Point based sparring doesn’t allow more than the strikes or kicks.  Grabbing your opponent is not allowed.  For Jiu Jitsu and other similar styles, this is counter intuitive as they are typically hands on, in-close fighting styles.  While there are strikes and kicks, they are often used in order to close the gap and then apply the more intrinsic elements, such as balance breaking, throws, joint locks, chokes etc.

Most real fights do not stay in the fighting range of point based sparring.  The back and forth just doesn’t happen very much.  Most combatants ending up in close range, whether it goes to the ground or not.

You’ll also find most people who point spar hold their hands in a position that may not be optimal for street defense.  Most people I’ve seen keep their hands fairly low, as they are trying to cover the most ‘real estate’ that they can that is considered a ‘legal’ target in point sparring.

I am of the opinion that in a real violent encounter, holding your hands higher is a better idea.  While I know body shots can be debilitating, I’m more concerned about being knocked unconscious on the street, and the knock out button resides on our chins/jaws.  In a real violent encounter, you’d be better to take a body shot when you are moving in than to take a head shot. 

And since you aren’t bobbing back and forth, you are unlikely to receive multiple blows to the body.

Point sparring has a bunch of positive elements, but should be used judiciously.  Sadly, in some martial arts schools, this is the closest thing that students get to dynamic training.  An expert in point sparring may be unpleasantly surprised in a real attack. 

The message to take away is to know the strengths and weaknesses of any form of training.  Point based sparring needs to be balanced against more realistic forms of training, including continuous type sparring which starts at a range, but continues to a conclusion, such as moving in, a throw or take down, and a finish.  Dynamic randori with multiple opponents is also a valuable training tool.  There are other methods as well, stress induced training, the ‘red-man’ suit and such.  Each method has its good and its bad points.  Just make sure that you’re not fooled into thinking that, on its own, point based sparring is an effective method of learning true self defense. 

Food for thought.

Train well. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Karate Kid (remake) and Ip Man movie

I finally had an opportunity to watch the remake of the Karate Kid.  A long time ago I took issue to the title saying Karate when the preview had Jackie Chan talking about Kung Fu.  I also thought Jaden Smith was a little young to portray the main character.

Well, the film never tries to say it's about Karate, and it knows the difference. The title is just that, a title, and an homage to the original story.

I still think Jaden Smith was a bit too young to play the lead character, but all in all, he did pretty well.  That's a pretty talented kid.  It's eerie how much he looks like his dad at times.

The Good?

- The film stayed fairly true to the general story line of the original without being a copycat.
- Jackie Chan is a very talented martial artist and it shows, although the fights were a lot more 'Hollywood' than in the original.
- Jaden Smith was likable and clearly worked hard for the role.

The Not-so-Good?

- The story did not seem as deep.  I felt less connection to the characters than in the original.
- The bad guys were bad, but I never bought the whole 'redemption' or the 'realizing you were wrong' scenes.
- Everyone was too young for the type of fighting/violence that was offered. There is a scene where Jackie Chan is fighting the bad guys, and they're just a bunch of kids.  It just didn't look right.

I fully realize that I'm a little biased towards the original.  That film was a fairly important film of my youth.  To be fair, I'm not sure the youth of today would even enjoy the original.  The thing about the original though, is that it was very real, including the fight scenes, albeit they were mainly point sparring based Karate.

Overall, I didn't mind the film.  It had it's moments.  Mainly I felt it lacked a bit in the character department.  I know it did fairly well in theaters, so it's always possible I'm just getting old...

Now, on to Ip Man.  I watched this movie on a free channel one night.  I didn't expect very much, especially since it's subtitled.  I usually don't enjoy sub titles, with a few notable exceptions.

Anyway, I loved the movie.  Partly because it's great and partly because I expected nothing.

Without giving too much away, it's about Wing Chun Kung Fu, Yip Man (or Ip Man), war, pride, ego, honour, China vs. Japan, Kung Fu vs. Jiu Jitsu, and a whole lot more.  It was very entertaining.  Some of the fighting was over the top, but there was a lot of good martial arts in there too.

A surprise hit.  Donnie Yen is great in the film.  I recommend it.  I've yet to watch part 2.

So there you have it, some lighter fare amidst some heavier posts.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blog News

Japanese Jiu Jitsu:  A Journey looks a bit different now on mobile devices. Blogger has added some features for 'on the go' folks.   I hope you like it.

I've added the Budo Blog to my links list.  Check it out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fight or Flight Survival Response

To oversimplify, the 'fight or flight' response occurs when people undergo extreme stress, normally in the context of facing danger.  It's an evolutionary response, which, amongst other things, causes a massive adrenaline dump, which temporarily makes you stronger, and more able to fight or to run away. It also desensitizes your pain centers, making you more apt to make it through whatever you are facing.  There's a bunch of other physiological things that occur, but that's the substance of the concept.

John Coles wrote an interesting post on his blog on the fight or flight response.  Read it here.

In previous posts, I've touched on the fight or flight response, the survival mechanism and the adrenaline dump that occurs during combat or extreme stress.  It's important to incorporate some form of stress induced training to your regimen, and to understand what may or may not happen to you.

Equally important, and often overlooked, is understanding that your attacker may be experiencing all these same things, making them temporarily stronger and more resistant to pain.

So what happens when the fight or flight response doesn't kick in?  And why wouldn't it?

First off, it's a complex issue.  So many things are happening 'behind the scenes' in you brain, that it's pretty tricky to figure out all the whys and hows.

Next, it's important to note that the same person may react differently to the same stimuli on any given day.  So one day, the response might kick in at the slightest whiff of danger, and another it might wait until an attack is underway, or maybe after.  Or even not at all.

There are very real advantages and disadvantages to experiencing the adrenaline dump brought about by the 'fight or flight' response.  Following are just a few of both:


Increased strength
Increased speed
Increased tolerance to pain
Increased endurance


Loss of fine motor skills
Auditory exclusion
Tunnel vision
Distortion of time

Without the response,  you are more likely to intelligently respond and recognize threats and plan and identify options,   The irony is that, by experiencing the response, you could arguable be better equipped to carry out that plan or escape.

Brains or brawn, too bad you can't always have both.

Can you overcome or prevent the 'fight or flight' response?

Yes and no.

Training can reduce or eliminate the response.  Repeated exposure to simulated situations de-sensitizes you from the effects of the response.  This is only true of serious training.  If your mind isn't in the game, it's just playing around.

For military, law enforcement and security, training is developed to over-ride the stress response, or at least mitigate its effects.  This is where stress induced training methodologies can be useful.

More traditional martial arts training can do the same thing.  This can be a double edged sword though, especially for people who have never been exposed to real violence.  It can backfire.

Take a martial artist who has never seen or experienced any real or disturbing violence.  This person trains for a while, and feels pretty good about their skill level.

Now, this person gets attacked.  Since their minds have experience hundreds or thousands of attacks in the dojo, they don't get the immediate adrenaline 'fight or flight' dump.  Their attacker may be jacked up, but they are as cool as a cucumber. Until their response/defense doesn't work.  Wait a sec!  This has always worked in class, and it's not working now!  Oh Sh_ _!  And I'm hurt, I'm bleeding!

Now the panic sets in, the response kicks in, but it may be too late.  If it had kicked in a bit sooner, they may have been able to get away or fight back enough to gain the advantage.

Some will posit that we should never try to overcome this natural response. There's some strength to this argument for the majority of folks, but this is not always realistic or advisable, especially referring those tasked with making legal use of force response decisions.

The other reason to train for both scenarios is the variable nature of your own response.  What if you don't recognize someone as a threat, but they turn out to be?  You might not get the benefits, or the associated physiological responses until after the encounter has ended.

So you need to train for both scenarios:

1.  Instant 'fight or flight' response
2.  Delayed - begins during an encounter

It is for this very reason that I stress the importance of learning effective self defense techniques that take into account both scenarios.  In my Mind the Gap series, I discuss this in greater detail.  For true, survival self defense for the vast majority of people, the techniques must work in both cases.  There is no adjusting for adrenaline.  You can never know, with absolute surety, when or even if, the 'fight or flight' response will activate.

For military, law enforcement and security, you need to train differently for both scenarios.  Adrenaline can help or hinder.  Just think about the effect an adrenaline dump would have on trigger pull and aiming and how tunnel vision and auditory exclusion effects threat identification and communication.

This is a much broader topic, but this is where mindset training is so important.  The will to win and the never-give-up mindset needs to be in place when everything else goes down the toilet.  The 'fight or flight' response can sneak up on this group and catch them more off guard than most folks, if only for the reason that it's unexpected after all the training.  When you've survived multiple violent encounters and have remained calm and fully in control, when you do experience the dump, it can be a very unwelcome surprise.  But I'm getting off topic.

It's very important to gain an understanding of what you may experience in a violent confrontation.  Research, find instructors who've experienced violence, keep a serious mind and make sure your training offers you the highest likelihood of success no matter how your body and mind respond.

Nature has given us a survival gift in the 'fight or flight', but we need to realize that some situations in the modern world do not allow us to maximize this evolutionary advantage.  Food for thought.

Train safely.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Yoda Sensei - Using the Force

About a year ago, I was at a presentation for a newly minted black belt.  A variety of instructors were in attendance, including my Sensei.  Part of the presentation and the event involved demonstrations from senior black belts in the style.  Many of them run their own schools, and several have created and teach their own unique style of martial arts, but they all come from roots in the style I am lucky enough to study.

Many of these Sensei have three decades (or more) in the martial arts and many are in their fifties, sixties and a couple in their seventies.  These martial artists, many of which I consider masters, all have their aches and pains.

They've all lived, worked hard, and have dedicated themselves to their chosen art(s).  As such, they each pop, limp, seize, groan, twinge, or otherwise show the associated wear and tear that is the life of most long term martial artists. Heck, I'm doing half of these things, and I'm far from their level...

I had the opportunity to sit back and watch my own Sensei from the perspective of a spectator, which is somewhat rare.  His uke for the day was a talented and young black belt, largely free from any age related ailments. Bottom line, he was young and fit enough to be tossed around pretty hard.

Watching my Sensei, I was reminded just how good he was.  When he wasn't limited by my limitations or his other more junior students, I got a peek at what he was truly capable of.  I barely recognized him.  He reminded me of the first time I set eyes on him, some 20 plus years ago, but he was even better.  He moved effortlessly, smoothly, and he tossed this young lad around like he was nothing.  It was awesome to watch.

It was later that I saw the Yoda connection. 

Why the Yoda reference?  This man, my Sensei, a master in my estimation, not an hour previous, had walked into the dojo, tired after a day of physical labour, his back was sore, his trick knee a bit dodgy, he had a bit of a cold. 

That person was transformed into a Jedi master.  It reminded me of the Yoda fight scene in the new Star Wars movies (not a big fan of the new ones, loved the originals...).  Yoda comes walking in on a cane, all Yoda-like, but then uses the force and has an epic battle with the evil dude.

Call it ki, qi, chi, the force, or martial magic, when you see it or feel it, it's impossible to deny that there's not something else going on.  Maybe there's something to this whole 'energy work' thing.  I'm amazed by it, I want it and I hope I get it one day.  

Imagine realizing that my Sensei is just like Yoda.  Wow.  Star Wars was so cool...