Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Warrior Mindset

Brett over at kyokushin blog left the following comment on one of my posts on Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath, Part I,  23 and 4.

He wrote "One question: You said that the mental aspect of training, and the readiness to be hurt and hurt others is something that has to come from within. I agree with this and have tried exploring these ideas, but perhaps you can elaborate on where you started when you began this aspect of your training?"

So how does one prepare themselves mentally to be hurt, or to hurt others, when confronted with unavoidable violence?

This is not an easy question to answer.  It is different for everyone.  It is a form of mental gymnastics in many ways.  

First – How do you prepare yourself to be hurt?

The first thing you need to recognize is that you will likely be hurt or injured to some degree during a violent encounter.  It is possible you’ll come out unscathed, but if you don’t prep yourself for the likelihood of being hurt, the situation could be disastrous for you.

Here’s one of the strategies I recommend:

  • Train with contact.  

Safety is paramount in training, but pain and contact are important parts of effective preparation.  It will be challenging to deal with pain and injury if you’ve never been hit.  

There is a natural degree of shock that most people experience when they get hit/hurt.  Training to fight through this, or not to freeze when it happens, is extremely important.  I am by no means recommending that you beat each other up during training, but simply playing tag or no contact training (depending on your art) is largely ineffective for preparing for pain/injury. 

I think it was Mike Tyson that said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.  Perhaps not the most eloquent saying, but he makes a good point.  

You can further enhance training with contact with physical conditioning.  Breath control, keeping your core tight and resistance training can help greatly. 

My own Sensei also assists me with the Shinai stick…anyone who’s met one of these little babies will know what I’m talking about…

For those who don’t know what this is, it’s a training stick, or sword, often used in Kendo training.  In our dojo, it is often used to test our stances, focus and balance.  How?  When doing stance work or movement drills requiring total body alignment/muscle tightening, Sensei will strike us with the shinai stick, usually in the stomach, legs, or rump.  It's not meant to injure, but if you’re not paying attention, it really smarts.  It’s not a solid stick, by the way, but still quite effective.  I’ve included a picture of a shinai for your reference. 

My Sensei often half jokes that if you get hit harder in training then you would in the street, you’ll think “Is that it?” if a real attack occurs.  

* Please note that building up to this level should occur slowly over time.  I do not recommend going full out on a new student, or ones that do not have a great deal of confidence at their level of training.  

Getting used to pain, even to a lesser degree than you might receive on the street, will allow you to continue fighting, or to react faster if an attack occurs.  Your brain won’t have to take the time to figure out what this new sensation is.  As covered in previous articles, your brain will search for a time you have experienced the same, or a similar situation, before you will physically react to it.  The faster it finds something, the faster you react/respond. 

In other words, the faster your brain says “Been there, done that”, the faster, and better, you’ll respond.

Beyond just contact, using pain as a training tool is also important.  The reason I mention pain separately (since getting hit hurts too) is mainly focused on martial arts that utilize joint locks, chokes, controls, breaks etc.  It is very important to take a technique to a point where your training partner needs to tap or submit to avoid injury.  This benefits both parties.  For the person applying the technique – they learn where the break/injury will occur (preparing to commit violence).  It allows the person receiving the technique to experience pain (preparing to receive violence), and to be able to differentiate between something that just hurts and something that will cause injury.  

If you know your arm is about to break in a real encounter, you can either steel yourself to it (minimizing shock temporarily) or you can adjust/increase the severity of your response accordingly.

That’s on the physical training side of things.  In the next part, I’ll discuss the mental training and some strategies you may wish to use for this.
Train safely,


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part IV

In the last three parts, Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part I Part II and Part III we discussed the aftermath of a violent encounter.  We focused mainly on what happens when you “lose” the encounter, both in your mind and the impact it may have on your training.
So what happens to you if you “win” the encounter?  If you did come out the victor, you probably found yourself in one of these categories:

  • Your training worked flawlessly and you easily dispatched your opponent effortlessly.
  • Your training kind of worked, or it didn’t, but you won anyway.

If you fit into category #1, keep doing whatever you’re doing.  I don’t think I’ve ever met someone in this category.  Quite frankly, most people will experience varying levels of category #2.  

You should be very happy if some of your physical training kicked in.  This is a good sign that you are training in the right way, with the right mindset.

Most likely, assuming you remember what you did to be successful, you will be questioning your technique and training somewhat.  These are good lessons to learn.  What worked well, what didn’t and where you need to focus your efforts.

So far, all positive stuff, right?  

It’s not really that simple, unfortunately.  A surprise to some is how traumatic winning an encounter can be. 

Many will be shaken by the experience.  Many will believe it was purely luck that allowed them to win.  Many will question whether or not they could ever repeat the techniques (if any) that they used.  Many will beat themselves up for reverting to a more base style of primal combat instead of being a polished martial artist.  Many will question whether or not they should continue to train at all if they revert to a big arm swinging, gross motor style of fighting, similar to children in a school yard scrap.  Some will question their art, some their teacher, some themselves.

Some will be sickened by the fact that they may have injured someone else.  Some will question if they went too far.  Some may be embroiled in the legal system.

Some will constantly re-live the experience when they close their eyes.  Some will become paranoid and hyper-vigilant, sensing danger around every turn.  Some may overreact to perceived threats.  Some will want to stay home and withdraw from their other activities, preferring to remain in a safe zone.  Some will become overprotective of their loved ones.  Some will arm themselves.

The potential impact that a real violent encounter can have on you is essentially the same whether you win or you lose.  A trauma is a trauma.  You may experience any or all of the same symptoms, regardless of who ‘won’.  

Occasionally someone who “loses” will seek out confrontation to try to prove themselves, essentially overcompensating to try to deal with their insecurity and self-doubt.  Having said that, some “winners” will feel the same need to seek out a fight to validate that they could, in fact, win again.

Obviously, the true way to be a winner is to avoid a confrontation altogether, but that is not what this discussion is all about.  In truth, occasionally violence is unavoidable. 

There are no true winners in a violent encounter.  Everyone will lose something in the process.  This is exactly why our training should have the multi-faceted approach of: 
  • Awareness/avoidance
  • Mental Preparation
  • Physical Skills development.
We train to prepare to respond to violence in a (generally) peaceful society.  We should spend some time preparing ourselves for what might realistically transpire if violence does find us, and the fallout of same.  We should know that a martial art is not a panacea, a magical entity on its own that will swoop in and save us.  We need to prepare ourselves mentally just as much as physically.

I hope you’ve been able to take something of value from this series.  Your feedback, as always, is appreciated.

Be Safe,


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part III

In Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part I  and Part II, we talked about surviving the after effects of violence and some of the mental trauma you may experience as a result.

We discussed ‘losing’ an encounter and the toll it might take on your training, current or future.  Part II ended discussing how people may question or quit their style and/or teacher and how many may think that martial arts don’t work.

I also mentioned the DFL factor.  DFL – ‘dumb F’n luck’ can occur at any time during a violent encounter, do your detriment or to your advantage.  A good fighter can lose to a novice if DFL kicks in.  Know that anyone might get the better of you depending on this factor.  Training is about minimizing the chances of this from occurring.

I told the story of a young man who was mugged on the street after years and years of training in Karate.  He was unable to mount an effective response to it and ultimately quit training, under the belief that Karate (in his case) didn’t work.

I said that it could have been the young man’s training, or it could have been his Sensei or it could have been him.

Any longer term readers of this blog will know that I believe a serious mindset is required for meaningful and effective training.  You can, and should, have fun, of course.  But if your head’s not in the game and you’re just going through the motions in training without connecting the skills to the real world, you’re unlikely to ever learn anything ‘useable’.  

If you’ve never prepared yourself mentally to deal with real violence, no amount of training in the world will help you against a motivated violent attacker.  

You must train your mind to be prepared to respond to violence, and to cause damage to others if necessary, to protect yourself or those you care about.  You must be prepared to do this without hesitation if the encounter can’t be avoided.  

Martial arts are only tools to make this easier to accomplish.  Without the will to win, they are essentially useless for self-preservation.  You must know, and truly believe, that you will prevail.  That you will triumph no matter what and that you will do whatever it takes to survive.

This is the skill that can’t be taught.  It must come from within.  

There are a few methods you can use to help prepare yourself.  Awareness training is one.  Mental role-play/rehearsal is another.  Utilizing the ‘if’ ‘then’ model of thinking.  If this happens, then I’ll do this.

Not only will this decrease your reaction time (make you faster) in the event of an attack, but your mind will have somewhat prepared your body to deal with the whole the host of physiological effects brought about by a traumatic event.  You will also greatly reduce the chances of hesitating, which can lead to disaster.  

You can do this any time, by the way.  For example, if you’re on the subway or public transit, imagine what you would do if the guy/girl across from you suddenly pulled out a knife, or a gun, or even an explosive device.  While the other riders would be confused and disoriented, you could react decisively and quickly, before those around you even knew what was going on.  Practice this mental rehearsal as much as possible.  It can be done anywhere at any time.

Another often overlooked area, is steeling yourself mentally, to really hurting someone else, if needed.  We are surrounded by sexy images of movie violence.  It’s not.  It’s ugly and upsetting, even for those on the winning side (assuming you’re not a predator).  It won’t look good, it won’t feel good and it may hurt you as well, physically.  Many a hand has been broken hitting others.  Often the winner is the one that is less hurt in an encounter.  Expect to fight with pain.  For some, it will hurt then, for others, the pain won’t set in until after.  Whatever the case, prepare your mind to fight though anything, including the sight of your own blood, or broken limb etc.  It’s about survival at this point.

Don’t expect your martial arts to ‘rescue you’ or just kick in when you need them.  This is not to say that you can’t drill a skill until it becomes an instinctive response.  You may actually react instinctually to an initial grab or strike, but if you’re not mentally prepared to follow up, that may be as far as you get.

Personally, I don’t expect my martial arts to work perfectly, if at all, during a real violent encounter.  I expect that I will survive no matter what and if my martial arts training help, that’s a bonus.  If it allows me to cause less damage to myself or my attacker, or to end the encounter more quickly, then it’s been a success.  If I’ve worked on my awareness and mental rehearsal skills enough, I may be able to more closely resemble the cinematic martial arts response.  If I’ve reacted quickly enough due to my mental preparation, it may look like I saw it coming.  Interjecting early enough into an encounter may allow a successful joint lock, takedown, wrist lock, weapon disarm, or even certain strikes to be delivered, shutting your attacker down at the onset, minimizing damage to both you and your attacker.  Or just as importantly, it may prevent a situation from escalating past its initial stages altogether.

I do a great deal of this mental rehearsal due to my professional role.  It has prevented situations from escalated more times than I can count.  I’ve used Jiu Jitsu successfully on several occasions, and I’ve also had it not work.  It didn’t really matter though, as losing was not an option for me.  Nor should it be for you.

Training to survive a violent encounter is really a 3 step process.

  • Awareness
  • Mental Preparation
  • Training

The actual practicing of the physical skills is the smallest part of preparing for violence.  It’s a very important part, mind you, but it should be what you spend the least amount of time on, even if you train every day.

If I could give you the mental fortitude and the will to win, I’d be a rich guy.  But I can’t.  No one but you can do this.

Now that we’ve discussed what you need to bring to the table, you can hopefully more accurately assess what, if anything is lacking in your martial art or your teacher, or in you.  You can decide if you’re getting ‘translatable’ skills.  By this I mean skills or techniques that make sense to you, ones that you think you could actually apply, taking into account the most likely kind of attacks you might face, as well as the most likely kinds of attackers.  This will be influenced by where you live, what kind of work you do, what you do is your spare time and the hours you keep, to name just a few.

Now that you’ve made an assessment of what your training does or doesn’t need,  we can move on to touch on winning, long term effects, and the healing process.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Just like that...

The post would normally be the third in my series on post violence survival, but it's not.

The other day, I received a text advising that an extended family member had been killed in a car crash.  While I was not close to this person, I could not help but think:

"Wow, just like that...gone".  

In an instant, one life is gone and the lives of those close to them are changed forever.  Just like that.

Life can change in an instant and as careful as we all are, bad things can happen.  

I try to use these times to make sure I appreciate those around me, to love my friends and family and to let them know I do, through words and through actions. To not take things for granted.

I hope you do the same.  And thanks for reading.