Thursday, August 22, 2013

Titles in the Martial Arts - Good or Bad?

There are a plethora of titles given to various degrees of experience and skills in the martial arts.  There are strict and not so strict rules associated to each title.  Many require a certain age combined with a set number of years at a black belt dan, or rank.  Some refer specifically to a dan ranking, and some are used as an indication of a person’s impact on the martial arts as a whole.

I have nothing against titles.  Using certain titles can be a way to show a deep amount of respect for someone’s skill level, their teaching ability and dedication to their students and their art.

I find it curious then, when certain high ranking black belts insist on being called by certain titles.  They are offended by anything other than being referred to as 'grandmaster' this or 'high commander' that.   It strikes me as an indicator of either arrogance or insecurity.

I believe there should be a degree of proper etiquette in a dojo or training facility.  Titles are part of this, and should be used appropriately, but in my opinion, no one should be offended if they are referred to simply as ‘Sensei’.  

Translated, ‘Sensei’ most closely means ‘one who has come before’, and usually refers to the status of teacher.  In my mind, this is a both a compliment and an indicator of respect.  You have, in many ways, given yourself up to them, trusting in them to provide proper instruction and lifesaving knowledge.  

There are times I refer to my Sensei by another title, but this is most often done in times of introduction or ceremony.  And typically, use of these titles is initiated by the students, or by other instructors, not at the insistence of the 'title-holder'.

Again, there are times when certain titles should be used, but I would have to question anyone who was offended if I referred to them as ‘Sensei’ during training.  

Sadly, I have seen one such “grandmaster” refuse to acknowledge a very new student during his visit to another dojo because the young lad didn’t know his 'exalted' status and referred to him as Sensei on the mats.  What was sad is that he completely ignored the young man who was (innocently) asking a question.  

Looking back, it is more comical really, conjuring up an image of a “master” covering their ears and saying “I can’t hear you, na na na na na” with a bewildered young many having no idea what was going on.  That would make a cute cartoon…

There are ways to correct a misstep of protocol or etiquette, but you can’t force respect on someone.  If you need to be called a certain title in order to feel validation, perhaps you need more work in the area of ego.  

For me, calling someone Sensei will always be a sign of true respect.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Warrior Mindset - Part II

In the last part, Warrior Mindset, I discussed one of two strategies for preparing to hurt someone, or to be hurt in a violent encounter.  The first was training with contact.  The next is:

  • Visualization/mental rehearsal and drawing on past tactile experiences

Most importantly, you need to visualize actually committing violence and causing injury to another person.  Most people can do this to some degree, but most do not really think it through.  They envision movie violence as opposed to real violence.  Often this is the only kind of violence people have seen, so it’s not surprising that real violence is often shocking to them.  

How would it feel to break someone’s limb?  What would it sound like?  What would they do?  Scream, fight back?  How would it make you feel?  What if you had to smash their face into the concrete?

Remember, real violence is disgusting, even for the victor (unless you’ve got problems...).  

So, if we only visualize the upsetting nature of violence, this could potentially work against us.  You need to balance this by finding out why (or if) you are prepared to commit violence in the first place.  To do this, you need to be confident up front that:

  • You did not want to be part of this encounter
  • You did whatever you could to avoid it

If you know these two things, then you can know you didn’t have a choice.  You have been forced into the situation, against your will.  You will be filled with self-doubt if you could have easily walked away, and you may have to consider legal repercussions of the situation.

You are then left with an unavoidable situation where you didn’t have a choice.  The only thing you control is your decision to fight back or not.

You now need to ask yourself what, or who, is at risk?  

Let me ask you this?  Who would you be prepared to fight for?  Your spouse/partner, parent, child or other loved one?  Would you be prepared to commit violence to protect them?  

Most people have someone they would be willing to do this for.  So let me ask you this.  If you are someone’s spouse/partner, or someone’s parent or even someone’s child, what impact would you not coming home have on them?  If you are faced by unavoidable, unwanted violence, it’s not just you that is at risk.  The attacker is threatening those closest to you as well.  

This is one way to prepare you to commit violence on others.  Understand that your loved ones may as well be standing there, as they are equally at risk, albeit not from the physical act itself.

To sum up, the two things you need to know:

  • That you did everything to not be involved in the attack.
  • That you are protecting more than just you and your body.

This can go a long way to prepare you to commit violence on another.  Visualizing the actual event then becomes slightly less unsettling and can serve more to anticipate or prepare for what might logically follow.  After all, if someone yells “STOP!”  when you are forced to hurt them, are you going to let them go as a reflex or have you resigned yourself to continuing until you know you can get away safely/get help?  You also need to know that what you are doing is not about punishing your attacker, or trying to hurt them.  It is about doing what you have to in order to survive and get away. 

This is all about mindset and the will to win. 

The military has a relatively short time to train their soldiers and yet they become extremely effective warriors.  Do you think they are taught secret techniques never seen by anyone else?  No.  It’s all about mindset, knowing that they have to win and knowing what, and who, they’re fighting for.  And training to keep fighting, no matter what.  To never give up.  Ever.

Never give up.  Ever.  Even if you’re hurt or injured (see last article).  Keep fighting until you can get away safely and get help.

Developing this mindset outweighs any physical training by a long shot. 

Now, I did mention drawing on past tactile experiences.  This sort of fits into both categories of physical and mental training.

Have you ever been punched in the face?  Not a sparring error, but actually hit hard, punched or kicked in the head or face by someone trying to hurt you?  

Most people haven’t.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have.  I know what it feels like.  It sucks.  And it hurts.  And it’s shocking.  I say unfortunately because it happened and I didn’t prevent it.  I say fortunately because I used it as a learning opportunity.  I know how it feels.  I mentioned it hurts.  It does, but for me the worst pain didn’t come until later when it really set in.  What it did do was make me disoriented, it caused a ringing in my ears and distorted sounds and caused a slightly ‘out of it’ sensation.  The world wasn’t quite right for a bit. 

I had the peculiar experience of recognising I’d been hurt and that it wasn’t minor, but I was not quite able to determine to what degree.  It took a while to sort out what had happened, making me slower to react.  We’re only talking seconds, or milliseconds here, but as we all know, that can make all the difference.

So, the first time it happened, I was slow to re-orient myself and respond.  I now use those sensations as a ‘trigger point’ for a ramped-up response.  Those sensations only occur when I’m in considerable danger, so I am now prepared to respond rapidly with a serious response.  

This serves well professionally for many (law enforcement, security, military etc), but can just as easily be applied to ‘normal’ life as well.

You don’t necessarily need to have been attacked to rely on previous tactile experiences.  As you know, your grey matter is flexible and you can be too.

Many years ago, I was getting out of my car in a parking lot on a windy day.  A strong gust of wind caught my car door as by head was turned away.  I turned my head just in time to be struck by the door full force on the side of the head and face.  After having experienced violence later in life, I am struck (no pun intended) by the similarities of the experiences.  Those same shock, disorientation, ringing and ‘out of it’ sensations were present then.  At the time, I was violence free, so to speak, so I didn’t realize that I could have used that experience to develop a ‘trigger’ to fight back.  The only real difference was the source of the attack, door vs. person.

Many of you will be able to remember, likely in considerable detail, a time in your life where you got hurt.  Maybe you hit a tree tobogganing, maybe you got hit by a car, fell off a bike etc.  These traumatic events tend to remain in memory for most of your life.  

Find one of these experiences, re-live it your mind, including the sensations, and then move it into the self-defense/preservation section of your brain.  Any time you experience similar sensations, you are ready to fight for your life.

This stuff works.  So the next time a car door hits you in the face and your hands come up as you get ready to strike out, be proud of yourself.  Caught unaware, it’s just as likely that the car door is an attacker who blindsided you.  The only difference is you’re ready for it.

I’ve covered off two broad categories and strategies for preparing yourself to be hurt and to hurt others.  I hope you can utilize some of my recommendations to better prepare yourself if you are forced to commit violence for self preservation. 

Train well,