Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part II

In Part I - Surviving the Aftermath I discussed how traumatic a violent encounter can be on peaceful people. This can be exacerbated by losing, or believing you lost. Physical injuries aside, it’s the mental ones that will likely take the greater toll.

I feel it’s important to touch on this a bit more.

Depending on the nature and severity of the violence you experienced, you may experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress. It’s important to recognize these symptoms and get them out in the open. Talking about them in a timely manner can be one of the most effective ways to mitigate the stress, and prevent a ‘trauma membrane’ from developing.

A ‘trauma membrane’ is one analogy of what people who have experienced a trauma sometimes go through. Over time, this ‘membrane’ thickens as you develop a psychological defense system to insulate or protect yourself from the post stress hyper-vigilance or constant re-living of an event. The downside of this is that that same membrane also inhibits the efforts of others to help you. The take away point here is that early interventions/diffusing/debriefing or just talking about your emotions is very important for the healing/dealing with a trauma.

Left untreated over time, some people may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD and its effects are worthy of a separate article and I've barely scratched the surface.

Bottom line, recognize when you’re struggling mentally and emotionally from the effects of post violence and seek help if you need it.

Moving on to training:

You’re likely challenging the value of your training, and you may be thinking of changing martial arts or quitting altogether. This is also natural. And this is a tough one. We put a lot of faith into those who teach us martial arts, believing we are getting effective and realistic self defense (assuming that’s why we are taking it in the first place).

For someone who has only trained for a couple years, this can be tough to judge. What qualifies someone to teach the martial arts? Is the ability to deal with real violence necessarily a pre-requisite? How would you even judge that? 

Many teachers of martial arts have never been in a real violent encounter. They may be extremely well equipped to deal with it, of course, or they may not be. This is why it’s crucial to find someone that understands the ‘why’ of what they’re teaching, not just the ‘how’. 

Without understanding the action/reaction/consequence/reason for it, you’re essentially going through the motions. It’s like learning the movements of a kata, but never knowing what you’re actually doing to your imaginary opponent. It might look pretty, but it’s unlikely any of it could be applied in the real world.

Examining/evaluating your teacher is quite important but it’s a delicate and touchy subject. Try to seek out teachers that take the time to explain the ‘why’ behind what they’re teaching you, and ones that are open to the ‘what-if’ questions (within reason). Most teachers confident in their skills don’t mind explaining or fielding questions, or having follow-up discussions, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. You have a right to know what you’re getting, after all.

You may also be thinking there’s something wrong with your chosen martial art. I know of one fellow that took Karate for many years. He was really into it. He was on a business trip and was mugged on the street. Sadly, he was so shaken from the experience that he quit Karate, and training all together. He said Karate doesn’t work.

Well, Karate does work. Or more accurately, it can work, provided you have the right teacher and the right student. All martial arts can work. It’s how they’re understood, taught, explained, examined, interpreted, applied and passed on that count.

I don’t know where this fellow trained, or who trained him, so I can’t specifically speak to it, but a blanket statement like “it doesn’t work” is sad. His confidence was shattered and he lost faith in martial arts to be able to protect him.

It could have been how he was taught. It could have been a watered down version, or it could have been his teacher.

Or it could have been him.

And no, I’m not assigning blame to the victim. Sometimes violence is unavoidable and sometimes no matter how much you’ve prepared, the DFL (dumb f’n luck) factor takes over.

In the next part, we’ll discuss what you bring to the table when it comes to training, attitude and action.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part I

It happened.  Even with all your awareness training and attempts to avoid it, it actually happened.  You were involved in a violent encounter.  Now what?

Real violence, unlike in the movies, is ugly and disturbing.  It's unpredictable and unsettling.  It's shocking to most people.  It is typically outside of the realm of normal human experience for the vast majority of what I'll call 'normal' people. Normal meaning decent people, not predators and not those accustomed to violence by way of profession.

There are a number probably outcomes:

1.  You 'lost'.  In truth, if you survived, you've won, but for the purposes of this discussion, we'll call it losing.  You either did nothing and took the beating (quite common), or you tried to defend yourself and it didn't work.

2.  It was a tie.  You took some lumps but so did he/she.  You may be injured but you defended yourself and it ended before your attacker's intended conclusion.

3.  You won.  You fought back and it worked.  The other person gave up, ran away or was injured to a point where they could not or did not want to continue.

Let's take a closer look at each scenario and the impact it may have on you, as a peaceful warrior.

1.  You lost.

For many, when real violence occurs, they freeze up.  The mind simply cannot resolve the issue of what is happening.  For normal people, many times they simply cannot believe it is really happening.  It causes this freeze-up effect.  The body doesn't respond because the mind can't make sense of what is going on.  So you just stand there, hoping to weather the storm.  If this is you, don't beat yourself up over it.  It's very common in peaceful folks to have this response. What you do with this learning experience, what you can take from it will be key as you move on with your life.

If you didn't freeze-up, you fought back but it didn't work.  Also quite common. The controlled safe environment of the dojo is very different than facing someone who is really trying to hurt you on the street.  You may have practiced this technique or that one, hundreds, or thousands of times, but it didn't work.  You may have become too focused on trying to perform one technique to the exclusion of all else.  You may have reverted to a more primal style of fighting back, or you might have started fighting and then turtled to protect yourself until it was over.

You may be injured.  
Your confidence will be destroyed.
You may cry, lash out or be afraid to go outside.
You may become hyper-vigilant and experience a degree of paranoia.
You may think your training was useless.
You may stop practicing martial arts.
You may arm yourself.
You may train everyday.

You will go through a roller-coaster ride of emotions.  The physical injuries are far easier to heal from than the mental scars, which will linger.  

First off, realize that some, most, all, or very few of the above reactions may occur.  Every person is different and will have different reactions to real violence. Whatever reactions you are having, they are perfectly natural.  You are not a coward, you are not overreacting.  Don't try to fight it.  Let them run their course.

You may require professional counselling depending on the severity of the encounter and your reactions to it.  Remember, seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.  If you are re-living the experience over and over again, not sleeping, or self medicating just to get by, you may need to speak with a professional.

In Part II, I'll further discuss the potential impact that an experience like this can have on your day to day experiences and on your future training.  After that, I'll discuss the similarities and differences between losing or winning a violent encounter.

Stay tuned and be safe.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turning Weakness Into Strength - Flexibility

Hello All,

I’m back on-line.  Thanks for your patience.  It's good to be back.

I’ve mentioned in the past the importance of studying and practicing how to attack properly (as uki), or realistically, in order to give the (tori) defender, or receiver of the technique, an ‘as close to a real’ experience as possible.

If we don’t attack in a way that mirrors how real violence may very well occur, we are doing each other a disservice.

A single straight punch where you leave the arm extended as the uki does nothing to help the tori.  Nor does a lapel grab that has no follow up.  No one just grabs your lapel and stands there.

I recently started to apply a choke to my training partner.  Training dynamically, I didn’t ‘sink it in’ before he squirmed to the side.  I managed to transition into a side-headlock.  I wasn’t crazy about the position I ended up in.  I’m not a big fan of a headlock, unless you intend to really crank the head and neck, which can cause significant damage.  There’s not a lot of ‘in-between’ stuff.  Plus I know a variety of counters.  So I chose to disengage, feigning a back kick as I released my partner.

My point is not about the effectiveness of the headlock, though.  

One of the harder things to do in dynamic training (as uki) is to ‘let go’ or ‘give up’ your desired technique if it isn’t working as planned.  There’s a natural tendency to fight to hold on to whatever technique you initially selected/reacted with.  This ends in a strange sort of standing grappling match where the two partners are locked onto each other, not doing much more than pulling and pushing and spinning around.  A lot of real altercations end up in this back and forth ‘tug-of-war’.  The problem is that this ‘standing wrestling thing’ is extremely taxing.  The party that gets tired out first is normally the one that loses.

We must train to overcome our desire to hold on to something that’s not working.  I believe that very often the first thing you do won’t go as planned.  One translation of Jiu Jitsu is the ‘flexible art’.  Another is the ‘gentle art’ which gives me a chuckle.  It really means there’s less ‘force-on-force’ encounters.  You often accept the attacker's energy and momentum and use it against them.  So we must be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances.

If you successfully apply most Jiu Jitsu techniques (and many other styles), your attacker won’t be able to ‘fight’ it and resist.  If you haven’t locked it in though, your attacker may still have strength and leverage on their side.  If they pull a limb away, it’s better to go with it and apply a technique which capitalizes on their pulling motion.  You’ll often surprise them by going with it.

Simply put, if something you try doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to switch it up and transition to another variation or technique.  Never assume a technique will work flawlessly and always have other options available.  If your mind dead-ends with a single technique, and if it doesn’t work, you’re in trouble.

My Sensei says he’s always thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead.  The “if, then” model.  If this happens, then I’ll do this.

This type of training and mentally preparing yourself to be flexible, or even disengage if necessary, is very important.  I’ve seen footage of people so intent on trying to apply, say and arm-bar, that their attacker is raining down blows upon them until they lose consciousness.  

It takes some work to recognize this tendency and develop the mental flexibility to deal with it, but it can be done, especially through the use of more dynamic and realistic training.  As soon as you add movement and stop with the face to face, “ok, now you attack me” style of training, you’ll find you’ll have to adjust rapidly to defend effectively.  This is a great thing to incorporate into training.  You can also add in what I call ‘continuous Jiu Jitsu, where you and your training partner go back and forth with different techniques and figure out how to get out of each technique and apply your counter.  Randori is also invaluable.  When you’re surrounded by a group and they throw unspecified attacks at you, you can really get a sense of what a real encounter brings to the table.  You’re forced to react and adjust.

There’s an up-side to all this too.  Just as you have the natural tendency to try to hold on to something even if it isn’t working, so does your attacker.  If someone grabs you, by the hand, wrist, arm, head, leg etc, the will likely try to hold on for dear life to make good their attack.  This provides us with the advantage of time and we know where our attacker’s focus is.  They are far less likely to let go while you apply a technique to counter it.  You also know where their ‘weapons’ are.  If their hands are occupied grabbing a hold on you, you don’t need to worry about them doing other bad things to you.

Use this to your advantage.  Select a vulnerable area that’s available since his/her hands are tied up.  Understand that if you pull away, they will pull back towards them even harder.  You can easily use this to your advantage and ‘set’ them up.  Much of your training needs to be reactionary and instant, but in some situations, you may have just enough time to play some mental chess.

Turning potential weakness into strength.
Food for thought.


“In judo and some other martial arts, tori is the person who completes the technique against the training partner, called uke. Regardless of the situation, the principle is that "tori" is always the one who successfully completes a technique. The terms "tori" and "uke" are not synonymous with attacker and defender, because the role is determined by who completes a successful technique, not who initiates one.[1]
In aikido and related martial arts, tori executes a defensive technique against a designated attack initiated by uke. Aikido has alternate terms describing the role of tori, depending on the particular style or situation, including "thrower" (ๆŠ•ใ’, nage?) and "performing hand" (ไป•ๆ‰‹, shite?).[2]