I'll start off with a bold statement which I believe to be true.
"All the martial arts training in the world ain't worth a lick if you're not prepared to fight"- me
I'm referring to mental preparation, of course. I've made reference to this in past posts but it keeps coming up the longer I 'dabble' in the arts.
Why has this pushed it's way into the forefront of my mind again? Two reasons.
1. I've been tasked with developing and delivering a course in defensive tactics to police recruits. I have a very limited amount to time to prepare newbies to deal with the violence in our society.
2. I am developing a course for survival training/self defense for non- police/military/security. I have a very limited amount of time to prepare the 'average' or 'normal' law abiding person to deal with the violence in our society.
While developing the training for two such disparate groups, the following became apparent early on:
For group one: The focus is on mental preparation with several (relatively) simple techniques thrown in. It is essential to instill a 'never give up', and an 'always keep fighting' mindset. These officers have to win. Every...single... time. It's about survival.
For group two: The focus had to be on mental preparation with several simple techniques thrown in. It is essential to instill a 'never give up' and an 'always keep fighting' mindset. These people have to prevail and get to safety. Every...single...time. It's about survival. The only real distinction was that the first group didn't get the luxury of running away. I shouldn't say run away as it may have a negative connotation to some. It's the luxury of exiting a situation to get to a place of safety. The end result for group one is a position of control and/or handcuffing. The end result for group two is escaping injury, getting to safety and calling, well, group number one. There were a few other differences, but by far the similarities outweighed the differences. I also watched several, somewhat disturbing, videos of the average Joe getting attacked. Often, the experience was so out of the sphere of normal experience for them, that they did nothing more than covering up, if that, or cringing from the attack as it continued. It was so far out of the realm of normal experience that they simply couldn't formulate a response. They just took it. It was the combination of this and my work that caused me to come to the conclusion of the above mentioned statement. If you can't bring yourself, mentally and emotionally, to doing harm to another person, to fight back, you will likely never triumph in a real life violent attack. You may be successful without causing serious injury, but you must be prepared to, if necessary.
In fact, if there was a surefire way just to teach someone to fight back and never give up, you'd probably do far, far better than trying to teach someone to do any actual self defense techniques. I'd go so far as to say if you could teach awareness, avoidance and a survivor mindset, the majority of people would never need to learn a single technique or step on a mat to be successful. I've said it before but it bears mentioning again. I would always rather go up against a 5th degree black-belt than an untrained parent who felt they needed to protect their child. The will to fight and prevail will always cancel out the skill of drilling punches, kicks, throws and kata. Visualization, mental rehearsal and a serious mindset are all essential components of learning real survival skills. The key elements of true self defense and survival skills are: 1. Awareness 2. Mental readiness 3. Physical skills Number one and number two far outweigh number three. Having said that, any person who has number one and number two covered becomes truly impressive once they've added number three. The point is, that if your goal is true survival and self defense, the lion's share of work has to be done in your head, not the dojo. A good teacher can certainly help and guide you with this, but if you're not prepared to use the skills you're taught, they're pretty much useless. Are you prepared to put your knowledge to use if you had to? That's a question we all should all ask ourselves. Are you ready?
You've just had a great session training in your martial art. You worked up a good sweat, you worked the heavy bag, you drilled your blocks, strikes and stances. Maybe you sparred or did kata, or both. You nailed all of it. You're on a post workout high, all those feel good endorphins running through your veins. It was a good night. Not a night to question what you're doing. Or is it?
From time to time you've got to ask yourself some tough questions about your training. Did that fantastic workout get you any closer to your goals? Assuming your goals are self defense and preservation, that is. So here's the tough question. Do any of your training methods answer to the type of risk or attack you might face in the street? All of the aforementioned training methods have some value, but they must be applied properly, or realistically.
Take the heavy bag. Sure it's got lots of benefits, but are multiple combinations of punches and kicks really responding the the realities of an attack? How many punches and kicks can you actually expect to land in a real encounter? How likely is it that you'll land more than one, and if you do, once you add in the dynamic of movement, where are your strikes going to land? You could easily injure your hands, feet and shins, even breaking them if you catch your opponent's hard parts. Sparring? Well, sparring is great too, but it's not real fighting. No one bounces back and forth for extended periods of time playing tag and stopping once they land a technique. Kata? The core of many martial arts. Misunderstood, there's not much value to them, from a self defense standpoint. Understood, yes there are self defense benefits, but many just go through the motions. Sadly, most kata is so exacting and inflexible in it's execution, it can be challenging to learn how to respond to anything other than a 'perfect' attack. And some of those scripted attacks on which kata is developed are unrealistic in the first place. It's easy to get lost in the minutia and miss out on the concepts contained therein. Stances? You need some form of stance for all you do, but to root into one for long periods of time will do little to assist you in a constantly changing assault. Blocks, strikes and kicking drills. All good too, however in a real encounter, after the first block or strike or combo, you'd best be moving to a position of advantage, to get away or as a set up for the next technique. So, throw away all your training methods?
Of course not. Just adapt or adjust them to match the real world. There is now nearly unlimited access to actual assaults that have been recorded on the internet. Watch how they happen. Put yourself in the shoes of the person that was attacked. What would you/could you do to respond to the attack? Study how you could have avoided it altogether. Then study the pre-attack cues, the hints that troubles on it's way. Then study the attack itself. How you would respond, first to the initial attack, and then what would you do as a follow up? You'll likely discover patterns in attackers attacks that you can then develop drills for. Figure out what you'd do and where you'd move. Then make sure your training syncs up to that reality. The next time you're using the heavy bag, think knees and elbows (harder to injure yourself, easier to injure your attacker, even if they're covering up). Do your strike, or knee or knee elbow combo and then move. Come around behind your imaginary opponent or practice getting out of there altogether. Sparring has some good movement, or it can, but most sparring prohibits any striking to the back of your opponent, so not many people practice getting behind their opponent. So make sure you do. Also, from time to time, keep going after a successful hit (if you do point sparring). Don't drill yourself to stop fighting as soon as you make contact. If you're an in close type of fighter, after you've tagged your opponent, move in and tie them up/set them up for a finish. Kata? That's a bit harder. Take a kata technique and practice it against different types of attacks. You may have to do it a certain way in a grading, but that shouldn't prevent you from experimenting with a concept and adjusting as necessary. Stances, go into them, but practice popping out of them and moving. You don't want to be fighting in a straight line, so get off the tracks, you can always drop into another stance once you've angled off to the side or back of your opponent.
Nicely put, Nike
Blocks, strikes and kicking drills? Same thing, strike and move. Move in, move out, move to the side, move behind. Every technique you do should improve your position, make your opponent's position worse and protect yourself from injury. One of the best things you can do for self defense is to study actual attacks and then tailor your training to respond to those realities. Training to respond to the most likely type of attacks from the most likely type of attackers will put you miles ahead of most in the self defense world. "You will fight as you train" This is very true in martial arts. Under stress, your training will kick in. So make sure your training is addressing the type of violence you're most likely to face. If all your training is static straight line training, you'll never move to a position of advantage under high stress. We are lucky in many ways to have access to such a large database of actual attacks. It is now possible to tailor training to more accurately respond to what's happening in the real world. Food for thought.
This has long been a mantra in my system of Jiu Jitsu. I agree with it, but it's also easy to forget.
I'm good at Jiu Jitsu. Really good. Actually, I may be too good. Which makes me, um...not so good. Some of the techniques I regularly employ are so advanced that I forget to go for the simple stuff. When an attack comes in, I often go for an unnecessarily complex response. Don't get me wrong, most of the stuff works, but for true self defense, often the simplest response is the most effective.
This came to light (again), the other night in practice. We were working on instant responses to attacks, be they wrist grabs, lapel grabs, lapel grabs with a punch, wrist grabs with a pull/punch, chokes, double lapel grabs, bear hugs, headlocks, etc etc. A whole gambit of attacks.
One of the important things we are working on is adding movement into attacks. No one grabs a wrist of lapel just for the sake of grabbing, there is always another purpose. Attacks are not static, so neither should the responses be. Add in momentum and multiple attacks and you find your arsenal of defenses must be examined. Not every defense can be applied when you are being rushed, attacked from behind or when you're being shoved.
A key element in self defense is responding instantly. As soon as the person grabs (or before!) you must move. There are exceptions where you may allow a person to get a hold of you, deliberately tying up several of their weapons, but in general, in real self defense, the quicker the better (and then get out of there).
So we started from wrist grabs (as a set up to an attack, again, no one grabs your wrist and just stands there). I impressively (hint of sarcasm) went into a variety of intricate 'advanced' techniques. Bravo. Problem was, they weren't all instantaneous. I had to think about some of them.
After I had exhausted my impressive list of responses, Sensei had a go.
Sensei started with several defenses utilizing the thumb to break my grip and my balance. They were lightning fast and simple. I simply could not hold on to him and he ended up in a position of advantage for a follow up if he needed, or he provided an opportunity to escape. Over and over, easy, simple effective responses.
He asked if I recognized any of these. I did. From my first day of Jiu Jitsu. Ever. On class number one, over two decades ago, we went over escapes from grabs. We learned about balance and the strongest and weakest parts of the hands (and body).
Of course, I've seen these very techniques countless times over the years, and usually again whenever a new student starts. It's part of an 'intro' to Jiu Jitsu as it demonstrates that strength is not required in most techniques. They are also techniques new students can remember, take away and apply if need be in real life. There's beauty in their simplicity.
Now, in some respects, they are being applied in a more advanced way, incorporating movement, momentum, unbalancing and positioning, but at their core, they're still "Day #1 basic techniques".
Never forget that simple doesn't mean ineffective. Less is often more.
A bit of a pun, but appropriate none the less
Never forget the basics.
There is much truth to the saying "Advanced techniques are the basics done better". Food for thought.
In my last post on training blindfolded, I
touched on the use of low light training to improve your ability to prepare,
and survive, a violent encounter.
Making training as realistic as possible is
never easy.Short of ‘surprise
attacking’ training partners outside of the dojo, it can be tough to create, or
recreate, the elements present in a real attack. (not everyone has a Cato…)
Training in low light conditions is one of
the best ways to mimic many of the dynamic and challenging aspects of
responding to an unanticipated or unscripted attack.
Most real attacks contain an element of
surprise.Very few perpetrators
make their intentions fully known.No attack, outside those of testosterone and booze fuelled acts of
bravado, start with two people squaring off with each other.
Knowing this, we need to develop methods of
training to respond to these ‘advantage-to-attacker’ scenarios.
Dealing with spontaneous attacks:
Frankly, if someone manages to take you
completely by surprise and undetected, there’s not much anyone can do, other
than fighting back after the attack lands, assuming you’re in a condition to do
In most situations, and if you work on
awareness as part of your training, there will be some hint that an attack is
coming.Unlike the blindfolded
training discussed in my last article, you will most detect some of the cues,
such as a flash of movement.
The challenge, then, is how best to respond
to these cues.In ‘standard’
training as I’ll call it, your attacker is standing fact to face with you.When he/she attacks, you often know
what attack is coming in advance.Even if you don’t, you may have enough time to identify exactly what
type of attack is coming at you.
In a spontaneous attack, however, you don’t
have these luxuries.Your goal
should be just to recognize that an attack is coming your way.The loftier goal should be to be aware
enough that you’ve extricated yourself from potentially dangerous situations
before they ever got that far, but this isn’t always realistic.
Knowing that very few criminals are looking
for a fair fight should impact our training.Responding to a flash of movement is problematic in a
well-lit dojo or training hall.This is where low-light training can prove invaluable.
Slowly reducing the light gives you an
opportunity to gradually respond to less than ideal
situations.The darker it gets,
the more you have to utilize and develop “universal” techniques.It is much easier to come up with a
response to an attack you’ve identified in advance than it is to respond to
blurry or hard to see movements.
Low-light training allows you to gradually
acclimatize, and inoculate yourself, to some of the conditions you may face in
a real violent encounter.While it
is unlikely that you will be completely blinded, it is more than likely that
your sight will be somewhat compromised.Remember too, that getting hit in the nose will cause your eyes to tear
up uncontrollably, reducing your ability to see.
Low-light training has many of the same
benefits of blindfold training, without the complete loss of one of your
senses.You must combine ‘feel’
with visual cues.You will find,
just as with blind folded training, that movement and balance must be mastered
to be successful.
There’s no such thing of course, but low-light
training will illustrate the need for developing strategies, and techniques,
that will give you the greatest chance for weathering the initial attack.
If you’ve read this blog for a while,
you’ll know the value I put into what I call ‘crashing’ in on your attacker,
while protecting your most valuable asset, your head.Protecting your knockout button on your chin/jaw and those
all-important eyes are extremely important.
This applies mostly to striking attacks,
but this same movement pattern can be very effective against most grabs as
well.Practicing crashing into
your opponent in lit conditions first is a good idea too, to gauge distance and
timing (and so you don’t hurt them when the lights go down).
For low-light training, I recommend your
opponent wear headgear as the likelihood of you making contact is quite high
when crashing in.
Experiment in low-light training and you’ll
realize the need for this ‘universal’ technique or concept.It’s easy to misread or misjudge an
incoming attack when the light is very low.Get tagged a few times and you’ll realize the need to cover
up while getting into a position to better respond/defend/attack.If you do get hit, don’t let that stop
you from responding.One of the
biggest predictors of success is your willingness to fight back, regardless of
the quality of your technique. Once you’ve survived or successfully countered the initial
attack, move into your response.
If you have access to strobe lights, add
them to low-light training as well.The rapid flashing distorts your ability to track motion and judge
distance and timing.Similar to
blind folded and low-light training, you’ll have to rely on all your senses to
respond.Again, when you can’t
judge speed and distance, you’ll need the “universal” technique to avoid being
If you can, add in loud noises as
well.A recording of a jack hammer
or even loud music will do the trick.This added distraction further hinders your ability to make sense of
things easily, just as the stress of a real attack can do.
When you train in low-light conditions,
you’ll discover that this type of combat will provide you will valuable tools
to prepare yourself for real violence.It’s a form of stress inoculation as well, which is always good.Low-light training will trigger the
‘been there, done that’ center of your brain, allowing for a faster and more
effective response to a real attack.
You will not likely ever be attacked in
‘ideal’ conditions, so make sure that not all your training is done in one.
Give low-light training a try.Let me know your results.
Training blindfolded is always an interesting experience.And it’s quite
telling.If you want to know where
you’re smooth and where you’re sloppy, throw on a blindfold and train.
You’ll find out which techniques are truly
ingrained and which ones you need to work on.
To simplify, there are 3 broad levels when assessing your skill level:
These are the techniques you know
really well.Even blindfolded, you
execute them smoothly with little or no hesitation.There’s a reason for the saying “I know it so well I could
do it blindfolded”.You are
smooth, quick and near instinctual.
These are the techniques you
know quite well but haven’t quite burned into your ‘auto-response’ center.These are the ones where you hesitate
before applying.Your mind's eye takes a
bit of time to ‘see’ your attacker before responding.This stage is often also marked by bigger or sloppier
movements.A strike may land off
target slightly, a lock might miss the joint by a little bit, or the person
you’re throwing may get dragged over and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground
instead of right at your feet.
These are the ones that are
really messy.You pause, try to
figure out what attack you’re receiving, where you attacker is and what to
do.Often people freeze a bit,
miss techniques or get all caught up or trip over themselves or their opponent.
Obviously, we should all strive for level I
Working backwards, you may be able to do
the techniques from level III quite well when you can see.Your response, however, is controlled
mainly by your one sense, sight.These are the techniques you need to examine to identify the feel,
Level II techniques are interesting.Your brain has accepted them and knows
them quite well, but you haven’t given all the non-sight based elements enough
study.It’s time to examine those
elements more deeply, in practice and also through mental rehersal.Low light training can be a valuable
method for bridging the gap between being pretty good and truly ingraining the
techniques.If you have access to
lights that can dim, even better.As you progress, you can turn down the lights more and more.
Level I – keep doing what you’re
doing.Keep improving till your
response is truly instinctual and instant.
Training blindfolded can be very
challenging, for you and for your training partner.Some attacks are easier to respond to, such as a grab,
headlock or bear hug. Obviously, it is more difficult to defend against
strikes, especially if there’s no pre-emptive grab.It can be done, but it takes a high level of skill and a long
For training purposes, start
with techniques such as grabs, chokes, headlocks and bearhugs and progress to
‘grab and hit’ attacks.This is
where you start to feel where your opponent is, detect when they shift their balance, feel the tensing of their muscles etc.
So how can you train to deal with the ‘non
grab and hit’ attacks?
This is where the low light training can be
especially valuable. In fact, the proper use of low light training can drastically increase your chances of surviving real world unanticipated attacks.
In my next post, I'll explain why this is so and how to go about doing it.
So many things to talk about.What a month!I was away from blogging for longer than I expected, but in
hindsight, it was a nice refreshing break.I did actually manage to completely un-plug from all things
electronic for over a week.No
news, no television, no internet.It was very freeing, and a little unnerving.
I’ve had some great and intense martial
arts training and experiences followed by a complete break as well, which is
also good for mind and body.
I can’t fit everything into one post, so
I’ll touch on one highlight.
I had the opportunity to train with a
master of ‘Classical Jiu Jitsu’.Now I often refer to ‘traditional’, but I’ve not often heard of
‘classical’ being used to describe the art very often.I do understand the difference between
modern, or ‘gendai’ systems and more traditional ones, and I do know that my
own style is heavily influenced by the small circle theory, but I got the
opportunity to explore the ‘classical’ side a bit more.
At the end of the day, of course, it
doesn’t really matter what you call it, good Jiu Jitsu is good Jiu Jitsu, but I
did get to make some interesting observations.In experiencing this master’s style, I was able to gain a
deeper understanding of my own style, and that of many martial arts, I suspect.
On the surface, there are some fairly
obvious differences in the way techniques are applied.Bigger motions here, smaller ones
there, emphasis on this or that, but nothing more than you might see from
Sensei to Sensei, or school to school.
Two major things did stand out though:
#1. In classical Jiu Jitsu, the ending of a technique was
normally the complete destruction of your opponent.This stems from the very fact that the techniques contained
in the classical system are as closely connected to true ‘kill or be killed’
nature of the battle field of feudal times.
Many of the techniques adapted for more
modern styles contain more options.You can more easily choose to control first, then break, then maim
etc.There is a more escalating
scale of options.There are fewer
of these options in a more classical style.
The movements also tended to target larger
areas, or entire limbs, a throwback to the need to deal with armored opponents,
with a focus on the areas that remained vulnerable, such as joints.
So, modern styles may contain more options,
and have been adapted to deal with modern realities, which are arguably a
benefit, but the classical roots are still there.
Which brings me to my second major
#2.We have altered many more destructive techniques to allow for safer
training.This may seem obvious,
but it goes deeper than that.
We alter techniques to allow us to apply
them to our training partners.That makes sense.You can’t
train if you’re injured.Many
techniques end with a break-fall, a roll or a tap.What some practitioners may not know is that the ‘original’
or ‘classical’ systems often simply did not contain an opportunity for any of
Many of the throws and techniques
illustrated (notice I didn’t say demonstrated) did not allow the opponent to
break-fall, or to ‘go with it’.After the illustration, the technique was then adapted, or altered, and
demonstrated on the uke, to allow them to, well, survive it.
I realized that this doesn’t just apply to
Jiu Jitsu, it applies to most martial arts with classical roots.
I can’t say these concepts are completely
new to me, but I’m now realizing just how many areas have been adjusted in
modern styles. This is not a criticism, just an observation.Having a more scalable set of options
in an advantage in many ways, considering our modern times and legal
considerations. Also, this doesn't mean that the altered, or 'softened' techniques aren't effective. They still work.
It is important, however, to understand the
original, or ‘parent’ techniques, to obtain a deeper understanding of your
chosen art, whichever one that may be.
I hope everyone has had a great summer. Train well.
Song quote aside, it's been a hectic but enjoyable summer so far. Training is ramping up in anticipation of a major event I've been invited to where I'll have the opportunity to train under masters in several styles. This will likely be followed by a bit of a break, our dojo shuts down for a month or so, time for us all to recharge, heal and renew our martial spirits. Give Sensei a break from all of us too, which I'm sure is a welcome one...
I'm also about to enjoy some much needed time away from work, which I'm really looking forward to. This last year has been the busiest one on record for me and I need to unplug.
I'll try to keep the posts coming, but forgive me if they're a bit more sporadic for the next bit. I may actually not go on a computer for a week or so, something I recommend for everyone from time to time. No facebook, email, smartphone, etc. I may rely on others to fill me in on any major world events, as I'll likely not turn on the t.v. or even listen to the radio. I think it's good to truly disconnect from all the distractions for a little while.
Having said all that, there's lots of posts forming in my head.
We've been doing blindfolded training (very telling of how smooth your technique is). So I'll be thinking about that. I'm attending a sword seminar, which is something I've never worked on, so that should be some good fodder. The event I'm attending should also provide lots of food for thought.
And off topic completely, I can't get over the level of athlete I've seen in many of the events in the Olympics. Wow.
I hope everyone is getting a chance to enjoy some summer time relaxation. "blowing through the jasmine in my mind..."
In training and in life, I like to have a plan, a roadmap.
Lately, both have gone off the intended course, somewhat unexpectedly. This is a bit unsettling, but not necessarily negative. Just different.
It is in these times, I suspect, that much progress can be made. Going off script can have interesting results.
I hope to follow up with some wonderfully insightful observations in the near future, but suffice to say, things are changing in my life. I'm a bit out of the driver's seat in many ways, so instead of obsessing over being in control, I'm going to try to enjoy the ride and see where it takes me. I suspect there's a virtue or bit of a lesson in Budo tucked away in there somewhere...
an interesting time lately at the dojo.
With the stress and work of a gruelling grading fading into the past, we’ve
started delving into different areas.
working on incorporating qi/chi, or energy work into our Jiu Jitsu. My Sensei has spent years and years
studying Qigong (also known as Chi Kung).
While he does lots of healing work, acupressure and acupuncture, he also
incorporates chi into his martial arts, making them that much more effective.
doing a bit of meditation and working on breathing and building up and using
chi. There are several references
to gates, to dantians, to breathing, to channels, to fire, water etc. These are all components of Chi Kung
and traditional Chinese and energy arts.
First off, meditation
and ‘mindful’ breathing which focuses on the lower dantian (or belly breathing
for lay people like me), is a great thing to do. It focuses the mind, blocks out lots of the ‘noise’ of life
and generally makes you feel good.
focusing on building up chi during these exercises and then using that energy
in our technique.
techniques have been far more effective, requiring far less effort (strength). In fact, I’ve been getting surprised
when my training partners start madly tapping before I’ve even really started
to ‘sink’ it in. I’ve had to start
being very careful not to accidentally injure my partner when projecting energy
definitely something to this.
magic?The force?Is there really a gas tank you can fill
with the energy of the universe that can be unleashed on your foe?
Or is there
a scientific reason? Can it be
that the very act of focusing, of actively making the body work together as
one, cause synapses to fire, long and slow twitch muscle fibres to work
synergistically? Can it be that a
whole host of physical and physiological processes occur to achieve this
economy of motion and effectiveness of technique application?
matter to me what causes it, as long as it works.
normally, I’m not the sort of fellow that just accepts things. In fact, in martial arts and in life, I
usually refuse to accept things without careful scrutiny or deliberation and
thought. In this case, however, it
There are a
couple of reasons.
#1. I like to believe that there are some
intangible things inherent to the study and journey of the martial arts. I still believe there is some magic in
the world, things that can't fully be clinically defined. We are all made up of energy,
#2. I’ve seen some proof. I’ve had masters do things to me that I
still can’t quite figure out, like sending my rather large frame flying half
way across the room having barely moved a muscle.
have been numerous occasions and documented cases of feats of incredible
strength or self healing. Parents have lifted cars off trapped children. And science
has shown how some people can speed healing to areas of injury through energy
work and focus.
So, I guess
I have scientific proof that magic exists. Hmmm, kind of talked myself into a corner on that one…
exactly my point. Be it science,
or be it chi energy, if it works, what does it matter?
If you need
science to explain it to make sense to you and therefore you can apply it,
learn about the science.
If you need
chi to explain it to make sense to you and therefore you can apply it, learn
work, some people envision it being a force, some think of it as electricity,
some as a wave. Whatever they need
to do to access it is fine. It’s
finding a way to use something, and use it well, that matters. If you envision a more scientific
process occurring in your body, that’s just as good, as long as it works.
need to know the inner workings of things, a more clinical understanding of the
‘why’ to make something my own. It
looks like even with this type of need, there are different methods, or paths, to
say magic is just something science has yet to understand or explain. Some think science and magic are one in
What do I
Jitsu is better. That's what I know. For now, that’s enough.