Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jedi mind tricks, ninja mind control and the mysterious lumbering ox...

Perception is an interesting thing.  We are constantly monitoring the world around us, both consciously and unconsciously/subconciously.  We perceive threats, make assumptions and choose our behaviours as a result of that which we perceive to be true.

Can you alter the perceptions of those around you in a potentially volatile situation?  Can you increase your chances of being successful if you are forced to fight by mentally ‘un-preparing’ your opponent?

I believe that you can.

We each carry ourselves in a certain way.  A big part of avoiding a violent encounter is how you act and move.  Walking with confidence, looking around, and simply paying attention to the world around you is one of the most important and effective methods to avoiding being targeted for violence.

Have you ever met someone and they seemed quite intimidating, either by their size or by the way they carried themselves?  You thought “Yikes, I wouldn’t want to tangle with them!”  Now, have you ever gotten to know that person only to discover that they are a teddy bear, not intimidating at all?  Your perception of them has changed by getting to know them.  They haven’t changed, it’s your view of them that has been altered.

In many situations, you can manipulate other people’s perceptions of you.  Not quite ninja mind control, but it can be done.  I’ve seen small people seem much larger because they carried themselves with a high degree of confidence.  I’ve seen big people that seemed small and meek by the way they acted and moved.

You will actually appear to be more of an impressive force simply by believing that you are.  Similar to chest-puffing and strutting in the animal world, you can look like a potential victim or an in-charge individual not to be trifled with.  This takes a bit of work, but it’s actually pretty easy.

So, what’s with the ox reference?

Well, it’s not the secret sixth animal of kung fu, if that’s what you’re wondering.

Other than awareness and confidence, you can manipulate the perceptions of others in a more subtle way. 
He is not the threat you think he is...
One of the important lessons that I learned early on in my career was that it is pretty easy to ‘jack’ someone up, making a bad situation worse.  I also learned that while it was possible to calm people down through the use of words, it’s also possible to affect the outcome of a charged situation through the strategic use of body language.  I discovered I could alter other people’s perception of what level of threat I might present to them.  Not just a physical threat, but as a threat to their goals (whatever they might be).  I’m referring mainly to dealing with people that did not want the police to be dealing with them, but this can just as easily be translated to anyone that is in a position where they are dealing with conflict or crisis and cannot simply walk away.  Police, military, security, ambulance personnel, and health care providers all fit the bill, to name a few.

I learned that I had the ability to control time.  I could slow things down by the way I walked and talked and acted.  How did I do it?  By becoming the ‘lumbering ox’. 

I’m a fairly big guy, so any strategy I used had to take into account that fact that I was physically bigger than a lot of people I dealt with.  Sometimes sheer size is an advantage, but sometimes it can illicit hostility or what I sometimes call the “little man” syndrome.  Some people simply wanted to ‘test’ the big guy.  Add that to an already emotionally charged situation, and sometimes it resulted in a situation escalating rapidly, which is what I did not want.

So I learned to slow down.  I moved a bit slower, made my movements more deliberate and talked a little bit slower.  Not so much that it appeared I was being obtuse or insulting towards an individual, but everything I did was just that little bit less rushed.  The key was making it imperceptible to others. 

The more I worked on it, the more I could see that my demeanour caused the people I was dealing with to calm down.  I appeared less threatening to those often ‘full of testosterone’ individuals. 

It must be understood that this style or strategy cannot be applied to all situations.  In fact, there are many instances where you have to ramp up and take immediate and decisive action to avoid a situation from getting much, much worse.  This strategy is for those times when a situation is emotionally charged but has not hit a tipping point.  Those times when a situation can go either way, depending on what is said and done.

The key to being the lumbering ox, as I call it, is to remain ready to react even if it didn’t look like I was.  So even though I might lean against a car, giving the impression that physical conflict was the last thing on my radar (no pun intended), I was actually primed to respond instantly if needed. 

Another advantage of my deliberately slow actions, speech and relaxed movement was that I was perceived as being slower than I was.  This is an important part of the process.  When my words and body language were unsuccessful in resolving a situation and the other person forced a violent encounter, they tended to underestimate my level or awareness.  They did not anticipate any readiness on my part.  They were so confident that their attack would be successful, and that the lumbering ox would be too slow to react, that without realizing it, they telegraphed their intentions and their attack.

This allowed me to react so quickly that the attacker was often confused as to what had happened, unclear how I had turned the tide on them when they were so certain of a quick victory.  I had, to a certain degree, slowed and then sped up time, to my advantage of course.  If enough time had passed during the lead up, I had actually started to make the other person mirror my actions and deportment, slowing them down, without them realizing it.

This lumbering ox method only works in certain situations and it doesn’t always work.  The point of this article is to illustrate that it is possible to alter other people’s perceptions of you by how you act and the image you project. 

In communication, only a very small part of a message is actually communicated through the use of words.  The vast majority of what you are communicating comes from your body language.  So if the way you carry yourself is responsible for the majority of your message, what is it that you want to be saying?

By being aware of your own self, and projecting your thoughts and will, you can control how you appear to the rest of the world.  Knowing this can make you less likely to be labelled or perceived as a victim. 

Food for thought.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Housekeeping and Friends

Just a couple of updates.

Jiu-Jitsu Sensei has moved to her new combined website/blog.  I recommend you check it out at Pacific Wave Jiu-Jitsu.  Under the resources tab, select Jiu-Jitsu Sensei blog for new and older posts.  I'll leave the link to the original blog under the links tab on this blog.

Bob Patterson at Striking Thoughts has decided to take a break from blogging after an impressive near 7 year run.  I wish Bob all the best and hope that he returns.  Blogging is a labor of love, sometimes the labor seems like it outweighs the love.  Lots of good archived material left for readers to enjoy.  His inactive blog will remain in my links section.

I'm also experimenting a bit with the layout of JJJJ.  Any feedback is appreciated.  Stay tuned for some new posts soon.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Block this!

Effective blocking feels wrong.  What?

Blocking itself is a bit of a misnomer.  I don’t believe that blocking is an isolated incident.  It doesn’t exist on its own; it’s weaved into a larger tapestry of technique (where’d that come from?)

In Kempo/Kenpo and in several other arts, I’ve heard the following:

“Every strike is a block, and every block is a strike”

I like that.  I think it helps in understanding that there’s more to blocking than meets the eye.   A good block can be quite jarring and can cause damage or stun your opponent.  A good block is actually the initial set up or entry into the next technique.  More accurately, it can be thought of as being part of the technique itself, whatever that may be.

Too often martial artists only practice blocking from rigid stances, and the blocks themselves are exaggerated with a clear starting and stopping point. 

Most times, an effective block does just enough to move the incoming strike off its target or line.  But that’s not normally how we practice them.  We concentrate on completely moving the incoming limb off to the side, or up or down.  This is unrealistic and opens your body up to further attack. 

A good block, especially for in-close systems like Jiu Jitsu, only needs to redirect the incoming force slightly.  Quite often, we don’t meet the attack with any force whatsoever, we just re-direct or guide it off to the side or past us as we shift out of the path, using your opponent’s strength and momentum against them.

For those times that you do meet the force somewhat, proper blocking can feel unnatural.  For instance, if your opponent throws a straight punch at your chest (like that would ever really happen), you don’t need to do an exaggerated block which moves the arm way off to the side.  You only need to block enough that the arm slides off its trajectory to escape the impact.  Realistically, it will still glace off your chest, but at such an angle that it causes no real damage.  This puts you in the ideal position to counter strike as your opponent actually moves into your attack.  

A big block moves your opponent too far off to the side which either opens up your body's vulnerable areas or makes you play catch up to close the distance to effectively land a counter-strike.

Big, exaggerated blocks put you at an additional disadvantage if you miss with the block.  Big blocks throw your arm way off your center line, opening your body or head.  It also increases the time needed to bring your arm back to fend off the next blow.

Consider practicing blocks with less range of movement or that travel less distance.  For middle blocks, stop just past your center line. Try shortening the entire plane of movement and experiment in half or partial blocks, without a ‘proper’ set up and chamber.

We tend to extend our blocks during solo practice, as if the end of the block is the end of the entire process.  We need to turn our minds to thinking of it as a set up or a strike to our opponent and our next action.

When doing blocking drills with a partner, concentrate on blocking ‘just enough’.  At the start of this article, I said effective blocking feels wrong.  In partner drills, you’ll sometimes still be getting hit, but the blow will have lost most of its power and, if done properly, will only be a glancing blow.  This is why it’ll feel wrong at first. (this doesn't apply to punches aimed at your face...)

We program ourselves to think that any contact from our attacker is somehow a failure on our part to block correctly.  The idea is to avoid injury and to improve our position.  So the next time you practice and block ‘just enough’, take a look at how many options are available to you.  Better yet, only think of your ‘just enough block’ as one part of a larger fluid attack plan.  Do your best not to separate the block from the rest.  You may find you can just slip past the incoming strike.  Don’t finish the block and then start the counter.  This stop/start form of practice is a dangerous trap to fall into and is all too prevalent in the martial arts. 

Ultimately, everything you do in the martial arts should reduce/protect you from injury, put you in a better position, or put your opponent in a worse one.  Ideally, you’ll do all three at the same time.  Effective blocking is one tool in achieving these goals.

Block well.

Welcome Rick.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Stuff it and the Stop-hit concept

Happy New Year!

Many years ago, I began using what I called ‘stuffing’ a technique.  It turns out that it has some similarities to Bruce Lee’s stop-hit or stop-kick concept. 

‘Stuffing’, while less technical and more crude than Bruce Lee’s concept, can provide several advantages, mainly due to its versatility and flexibility.  Where Bruce would use a carefully timed kick to stop an opponents attack or attacking limb, ‘stuffing’ uses the whole body to do so.

The idea is to stop, interrupt, or ‘stuff’ someone’s attack as it comes at you.  This is accomplished by attacking, or blocking and attacking simultaneously, using your entire body to intercept or to 'stuff' your opponents attack back into them, while protecting yourself and causing them damage all at the same time.  


      Your stop the attack

This one is pretty obvious.  Stop the attack from landing and knocking you out.

You reduce the chance of injury to yourself

By interrupting the attack with your own, you greatly reduce the chance of serious injury.  Even if the intended strike, kick or attack lands, chances are that it will be a glancing blow, or at the very least, not fully realized.  Better to get caught by an attack mid swing or mid cycle, or during the wind up when the power is still being generated in anticipation of the end of the technique.

      You startle or overload your opponent.

This is one of the main reasons for ‘stuffing’ an attack.

By startling and interrupting your opponent’s attack, you overload their ability to figure out what is going on temporarily.  This provides the opportunity to follow up your stop-hit ‘stuff’ with another technique or made good your escape.

This is your brain when it's 'stuffed'...
Your opponent’s mind is focused on causing you injury and on the desired outcome when their initiated attack lands.  By interrupting, or ‘stuffing’ the technique with a hit or attack of your own, you force their brain to ‘switch gears’ and go from aggressor to defender.  This takes time.  Couple that with pain and shock and it takes even longer for them to decipher what just happened and how to react to it.  It doesn’t take long of course, but confrontations are won or lost in these precious seconds.

Most people do not spend a lot of time practicing what to do if their attack is interrupted or intercepted.  Strikes and kicks are normally attacks that are performed with a degree of forward movement, having judged the timing based on the distance of your opponent.  If you advance on the attacker, you’ll often find that they are not prepared to, or do not know how to, adjust to your forward movement. 

You will catch them mid-attack and off balance.  This can be particularly effective against people who use deep stances.  You may find they topple over if they are too rooted in their stance

‘Stuffing’ an attack doesn’t have to be as technical and sharp as some of the examples on the internet show for stop-hitting.

In a real violent encounter, I’ve found it is just as effective, if not more, to just kind of ‘crash’ into your opponent, using your head, shoulders, elbows and the like as your attack.  The protected position created by many of these attacks serves as your block, or ‘stop’ portion.  Bring your arms up to protect your head when you crash into them.  You’ll find if their half-cocked attack lands, it’ll land on your arms and shoulders, or on you legs in the case of a kick.  It may still jar you a bit, but it won’t incapacitate you or knock you out.

Be the train, not the car...
 This crashing, or ‘stuffing’ also removes the necessity to absolutely identify what attack is being initiated by your attacker.  Often there is not enough time to identify and then react with a stop-hit.  It can be done with enough training, but for most real self defense situations, the crashing or ‘stuffing’ will work just fine for most attacks.

Bruce Lee mentions that this works best on advancing attackers, or those that are stepping in to attack you. 

I agree.  I think this adds to the value of practicing ‘stuffing’.  Most real violent attacks are thrown by attackers who are committed to the techniques, those who are trying the knock your head off your shoulders or kick right through you.  These attackers will almost always move towards you or step into their attacks.  It is during this crucial initiation phase that ‘stuffing’ is used to its greatest advantage.

Of course, you need to know what to do once you’re on the inside.  In close, you should have non-striking techniques in your arsenal to follow up with.  Also, if your attacker topples over, be prepared to get the heck out of there.  You’ve just created enough time to get a good head start.  By the time your attacker reorients them self and gets up, you can be half a football field away, or more.  That’s a lot of ground to make up if your attacker decides to chase you, assuming of course that their confidences isn’t so shaken that they decide not to pursue.

‘Stuffing’ is a valuable concept and an effective method of dealing with real world violence.  It’s effective against a variety of attacks and can readily be used by people of varying skill levels.  It can also be used in responding to a surprise attack as it reduces your chance of receiving a fight ending blow, regardless of what attack is thrown your way.  It essentially defends against a whole bunch of attacks all at the same time.  When you’re caught off guard, this is important.

In my opinion, ‘stuffing’ gives you a lot of bang for your training buck.  You do have to be careful when training though, as by its very nature, ‘stuffing’ has a high chance of injuring your opponent, which is fine in the street, but not in the dojo…

Train safely.