Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pride? Ego? What's my problem?

The other day I saw a family friend that I only get to see once or twice a year. Each time he sees me, he asks about my training.  He in genuinely interested in the martial arts and my ongoing journey and progress.  He doesn't train in the martial arts but he asks thoughtful questions and has an open mind.

Around three years before I began this blog, I had decided to try to throw away ego, pride and pre-conceived ideas on the martial arts.  I essentially started over.  My first real Sensei, the man who inspired me and put me on my path in the martial arts, agreed to take me on as a student.  He had retired from the business side of the martial arts but was willing to train me.  I put aside my belts from other martial arts.  I've held, and I guess I still hold, several belts of various colors in various arts.  I've yet to earn a black belt in any art, in case you're curious, but I've gotten pretty close in a few.

It was liberating to don a white belt again.  Just the look of it reminded me of what I was doing, and why I was starting over.  For the first two years, I was lucky enough to be a private student of my Sensei.  The training was intense and challenging.  I was a lucky lad, indeed.  For two years, I wore a white belt and never gave it another thought.  We never talked about grading, and quite frankly, I don't think it really crossed my mind.  It wasn't until my Sensei decided to take on a couple of select students that belt color and gradings were introduced.

I don't put a lot of weight on belt color.  Some martial arts clubs will promote students to black belt in a year, some take ten.  There's lots of good things about the colored belt system, but they don't tell the entire story.  I've posted on the topic several times previously, you can read the posts below:

Coloured Belt System - The Good
Coloured Belt System - The Bad
The 'No-belt' test
Bad Business, Fake Black Belts and the Internet

The point?

As a lead in to the conversation, the family friend said "You're a black belt, right?"  When I said no, he said I must at least be brown then.  He had, as it turned out, been told by a well meaning family member that I was a black belt, that family member assuming that I must have been as I've been training for as long as they remembered, at least a couple decades.  Neither knew, or could know, about my decision to start over or the specifics of my history in different arts.  They just knew I train.

What hit me about this conversation was that I found myself starting to explain the reasons that I wasn't a black belt, almost feeling a need to justify why I wasn't.  I realized that the issue of justifying why I was, or wasn't something, was all in my head.  It was my issue.  My belt color made no difference to the family friend.  It was a passing assumption that didn't require any explanation by me whatsoever.  It was also not any part of the subsequent martial arts conversation.

It was in that moment that I realized that I'm not completely free from all things ego and pride related.  It caught me a bit off guard.  My Sensei is the most talented martial artist that I've ever met.  I've 'road tested' my Jiu Jitsu with success on several occasions.  I know what I know and I'm confident that the instruction I receive is truly world class.  So why did I feel a need to provide an answer to a question that wasn't even really asked?

Clearly I've still got a ways to go letting go of ego and pride on my journey. Has anyone else suffered from an ego 'glitch' like I did?

Thanks for reading.  Back to some introspection for me...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blog Update

I just wanted to welcome the new readers who have signed up to follow this blog over the last several weeks.  Welcome and I hope you enjoy it.  And to all my followers and visitors, thanks for taking the time to read the blog.

I've added a few new blogs to the links section as well.  I recommend you check them out.  There so many great blogs out there, and I hope to add some more links in the near future to the ones which continually impress.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The things that matter.

A close friend of mine lost a family member a few days ago.  Sometimes it takes a sad event to remind us of what's really important.  Health, family and friends.  We should never lose sight of this.

As for martial arts training,  your priorities should remain the same.  Train to stay healthy and to protect those you care about.  And remember, the point of learning how to defend yourself is to make sure you return safely to those you love.

My friend's loss reminded me to let go of all those little things that bug me but don't really matter, and to focus in on the things that count.  A great lesson, and one that I hope I can retain without needing another sad event to remind me.

Remember what and who is important to you.  It's for them that we train.

Train with clarity and a proper spirit.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part V - The Law - a follow up

It was fairly challenging to write a single post that would capture how the law looks at self defense.  The content applied to the laws of several countries, and as such, hit mainly on the commonalities of the law and advice to keep you, the reader, safe and in a strong legal position.

John Coles left the following comments on my post on the law.  I've decided to respond to his concerns and comments in this post.  John's comments are in italics and I'll follow in bolded regular text.

"When you defend yourself against another person, you are assaulting that person. The law is based on assuming that is an illegal act, but then provides a defence against that act - self defence.

Most laws regarding assaults include the following elements - (1) the deliberate application of force to another, (2) directly or indirectly, (3) without their consent.  Self defense techniques therefore do fit John's point.  You are assaulting the person, but self defense is an area in law that justifies that use of force, exempting you from criminal liability, as long as it was reasonable.

Your point #2 needs clarification. You can use as much force as necessary to defend yourself - but no more. The law is about proportionality. However, humans have evolved to over react. In evolutionary terms, if you entire destroy the threat or do enough simply to nullify it, they are one and the same. For evolution, make sure and ensure the survival of the species - over react and destroy the threat outofsight. This then brings evolved behavioural patterns into conflict with modern law.

You can use as much force as necessary to defend yourself - but no more.  I stand by my comment as it is correct.  Perhaps for clarification, I could have said that you can use the minimum amount of force as is necessary to defend yourself.  I didn't choose this wording as I feared it could confuse the matter as the minimum amount of force will vary for each situation and for each person, based on the totality of the circumstances.  

From an evolutionary perspective, there may be a more basic animal reaction in some, but I doubt that most people would resort to shooting someone in the head if they shoved them to ensure the survival of the species.  I don't necessarily disagree with John's point, but I'm referring to getting out of a dangerous situation intact, where there is a degree of evolved thought.

Pre-emptive 'attacks' to defend oneself. You have a legal problem there. You assaulted another person. You need to find a defence. Given the legal system is based on legislated law and precedent, you need to find a legistlated law or precedent that supports your case. Given the person did not attack you, that often becomes problematic. How many women have been jailed for killing their abusers when their abusers were not actually attacking them at the time?

You may have a problem with pre-emptive attacks, you may not.  Yes, you've completed the essential components of how an assault is defined.  There is a fairly significant body of case law, or precedent which supports some pre-emptive action.  There are a couple of areas that need to be factored in to the discussion.  When did the assault begin?  If someone is advancing on you with the intent and ability to hurt you, in my opinion, the assault has begun.  You also must understand that each situation would be examined on a case by case basis, which must factor in all the circumstances of the event.  Who are you?  What did you perceive?  Who was your attacker?  Where were you?  Were there weapons?  Drugs?  Alcohol?  The list goes on and on.  

You will have to explain yourself, but again, you are likely going to be successful if your only motivation was to get away to safety, not to hurt or punish your opponent.

As for the domestic abuser comments. There have been women who have been sent to jail for killing their abusers when they weren't actively being attacked, but there are also ones who have been found not guilty due to the history and all the circumstances surrounding the abuse and the individuals.

Here is a question that may intrigue. If you punch someone in the street, that is an assault and you'll be arrested for it. Why is it any different when you do it in a class or a tournament? Why is it any different when a football player (Aussie Rules of course) punches an opposing football player? Why aren't F1 drivers arrested for assault when they attack each other, or soccer players, basketball players, etc. when they engage in fisticuffs in their sports?

The answer is important for the teaching of marital arts."

Sports violence is an interesting side issue.  The reason that a certain degree of violence is tolerated in martial arts or sports is due to the issue of consent.  One of the elements of proving an assault is that the force applied was without the other person's consent.  If two sports players basically 'agree' to fight, it's sometimes ok.  Having said that, there's an important caveat.  The law states that you cannot consent to major or serious injury.  That's why sports figures who seriously injure the other player often face criminal charges, especially if it's a 'sneak attack'. 

It is an interesting area in law, and martial artists should understand how it applies to their study.

I thank John for his comments on my post.  I welcome any other questions or comments on the topic.

Also, please be advised that John has just launched a new blog on The School of Jan de Jong.  Check it out.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part V - The Law

Use of Force

(disclaimer time - As with any issue that touches on the law, I encourage everyone to learn about the laws where they live.  Some laws will vary from place to place.  My interpretations are based on my experiences dealing with North American law and my exposure to the laws of several international countries.)

Most martial artists are pretty decent people.  In a somewhat paradoxical fashion, many martial artists are very concerned that they are going to hurt someone in an altercation.  Others believe that they can't use their skills to defend themselves because they would be criticized in a court of law.  Others even believe that black belts need to register their hands as deadly weapons. They don't.  That one gives me a chuckle.

Most laws in most countries are very similar in the area of use of force for self defense.

How much is too much?

How much force can you use to defend yourself?  How much is too much? What if your attacker gets hurt?  These are all good questions and show a responsible mind.  During an attack however, such thoughts breed hesitation. And hesitation spells disaster.  So what to do?

The Rules:

Well, here's three simple rules that will hopefully free your mind to train safely, responsibly and effectively.

#1.  Your right to defend yourself is not affected by your ability to do so.  

- Everyone has a right to defend themselves from harm (or to defend someone else).  It doesn't matter who you are or what you know.  

#2.  You can use as much force as is necessary to stop the threat.  

- This is a little more difficult to absorb.  First, there must be a threat.  You must believe you are in danger and that the other person has the ability to carry out whatever that threat is.  You are justified in using as much force as is needed to stop the threat, but that's it.  As soon as the threat has abated, you must stop.  If you don't, your use of force shifts from defense to assault in the eyes of the law.

Point #1 and #2, while accurate, will still cause many of you to have questions. There are lots of 'What if...' questions that can come up.

So here is probably the most important point of all:

#3.  If your only goal or motivation in a violent encounter is to get away, chances are the rest will take care of itself.

In Part IV, I talked about how the goal of true self defense, or the definition of success was a) surviving, b) getting away, and c) minimizing or avoiding injury.  With this in mind, let's review the first two points.

Point #1 said your right to defend yourself is not affected by your ability to do so.  So the better you are, the easier it will be to create an opportunity for you to get away.  You may end up creating an opportunity to escape using much less force than an untrained person.

Point #2 said you can use as much force as is necessary to stop the threat. You have stopped the threat when you have created an opportunity to get away.  Assuming all your other avoidance strategies didn't work, do whatever you have to do to create an exit point.  If this is the only goal of the force you use, chances are you'll be o.k.

There are also the optics of the situation.  If onlookers observed the altercation and they saw you try to talk your way out of a situation, and then when you were attacked, they watched you respond but immediately take the first opportunity to escape and get to safety and call for help, they are now positive witnesses.  On the other hand, if you stuck around and gave your attacker a couple of shots to punish them for picking the wrong guy (or gal), how would that look?  Even if the same level of injury was sustained by your attacker in both scenarios, one would be a lot easier to explain to a court.

The law typically has two parts, the criminal act and the criminal intent. Typically both must be proven to convict someone of a crime.  Acts are easier to determine.  You punched your attacker.  That was the act.  The intent is a bit trickier.  And that's where we need to observe rule #3.  If your intent was to hurt your attacker, you might be questioned about the amount of force you used, you might even be charged with assault.  If your intent was to provide an opportunity to get away and get help, chances are you won't.  It's really that simple.


If your only true goal in a violent encounter is to survive and get away, chances are the law will be on your side.  Beyond the law, you'll also be comfortable in the knowledge that whatever force you used was legally, morally and ethically sound.  When your mind is unclouded by all the 'What if questions', you will respond more quickly and more effectively to any attack. The rest will just sort of fall into place.

I hope this helps to pull together all the parts of the Mind the Gap series into a somewhat cohesive package.

Train effectively, train responsibly, train safely.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mind the Gap - Part IV - What is your goal?

The Question:

Perhaps the biggest question you need to ask yourself is why you are doing what you are doing.  What is your motivation in training, or in an encounter?  What is you end goal, your desired outcome?

I had read a post on Sue’s blog which asked "What kind of martial artist are you?"  I had made a comment and she had responded that I was lucky in that I knew exactly what I wanted and needed and that I had found a place where I got just that.  She said that I was lucky on both counts.

Her comments made me give quite a bit of thought to the matter.

I am lucky.  I know what I need and how to get it.  I am unique that in a confrontation, my motivation, goal, or desired outcome is different than most.  I must continue and resolve the matter, ending in a superior position with my opponent under control, or under arrest, the danger to myself and others having been negated.

In most circumstances, there is no need for the majority of us to ‘finish’ it.  By nature of occupation, I am not always afforded the more sensible approach of extricating myself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible.


Not having a clear understanding of your motivation, or your desired outcome or goal, will likely interfere with your ability to respond to real encounters with violence. 

There is a tendency for most martial artists to feel a need to best their opponent, to beat them, or to win.  This is re-enforced by the structure of most martial arts instruction.  Tapping out, point scoring, judging, they all re-enforce the concept of winning or losing.

Redefining Success:

We need to re-define what it means to be successful, or to win.  For true self-defense purposes, winning should be defined as:

#1.  Surviving
#2   Getting away
#3.  Minimizing/avoiding injury 

That’s it. 

With that in mind, how many times is running away taught in a martial arts school?  It may be mentioned in passing, but how often do you actually practice getting away after an attack has been thrown at you?  How often do you respond and then actually run away.  Remember, you will fight how you train.

If we are truly interested in pure survival self-defense, we need to throw away our preconceived ideas on what it means to win.  This especially applies to the more testosterone filled among us.  Guys (and some girls) have trouble running away.  They see it as a sign of weakness or cowardice. 

This thinking needs to be changed.  After all, what takes more courage, running away and returning to your loved ones to be there for them, or dying over some stupid ass fight?

Imagine what your eulogy might say in both scenarios.  How would you want to be remembered, as a dependable person who cared about family and friends, or as a person that had to prove he/she could win a fight, but didn’t.  Think about it.

Why do I bother taking martial arts if I’m just going to run away?

Should you pack in your martial arts study and buy a good pair of running shoes with the money? 

No, of course you shouldn’t.

Effective martial arts are there for when you can’t get away, or when you need to get to a point where you can safely get away.  Or for when you must protect someone who cannot protect themselves.  You need to remember it won’t be pretty, the techniques won’t be as smooth or as flowing as they are in practice, and you may get hurt.  You use your martal arts training to hit, block, surprise, unbalance, lock, throw, kick, or whatever you choose as tools to open up the opportunity to get away.  Not to win, look good, brag, or punish.  Just until you can get away safely. 

If a significant amount of your training is not being spent on this type of work, with this type of mindset, you may need to ask yourself the difficult question of whether or not you are actually learning true self-defense.


As I’ve said on many occasions, there are lots of other benefits to studying martial arts.  And all that other ‘stuff’ in training can make you better at self-defense, but you still need to work on the actual self-defense part.  I look at it like this.  If you want to be an excellent basketball player, running drills help, squats and weight training help, riding a bike helps, Olympic lifts help etc.  

All those activities can serve to help you improve your game, but they won’t help you one bit if you don’t actually play basketball.  It needs to be the focus of your training.  Just like self defense needs to be the focus of your martial arts training.

In the next (and probably last) part of this particular series, I’ll touch on the concerns that many martial artists have about the law and legal issues surrounding self defense.   

Train wisely.