Monday, January 30, 2012

Resistance is Futile

Resistance is futile.  That's what The Borg say, anyway.  Despite this, the Enterprise continues to resist --- successfully even, despite their many setbacks.  It is in our human nature to aspire to prevail.  However, there are two sides to this story, and one must ultimately consider "what are we resisting?"

Today at swim class, Yamada-coach talked about resistance.  He talked about not fighting the water.  We must co-operate with it to allow ourselves to pass through.  This means always "thinking forward" (a lesson in and of itself), relaxing the body(again, a lesson in and of itself), and removing resistance to the water.  By doing so, we pass smoothly and effortlessly, and go the maximum distance with the minimum effort (efficiency).
In hearing this, I began to consider whether or not mental resistance plays a factor in swimming.

We can consider two types of resistance to our progress through the water and, in fact, our progress through life:  resistance of the body and resistance of the mind.  resistance of the body is the inability to relax.  It is any muscle tension which prohibits us from moving freely and expends energy needlessly and wastefully.  Indeed, we should apply only that energy which is needed for a particular task, not more and not less.  This is efficient.  In the pool, this means streamlining our motion to reduce drag and pushing the water directly behind us, neither up nor down.  In the dojo it means keeping the body relaxed until the moment of impact (kime).

At the same time, our state of mind can also cause resistance.  We allow our preconception of situations and people to create our reality, and in doing so lose the possibility of viewing things with a child's mind, an open mind ready and willing to accept new ways, ideas, concepts and beliefs.  This limits our human experience and narrows our abilities.  It is inefficient.

In our training, we should focus on removing resistance whenever possible.  This means allowing our mind and body to remain relaxed, and to allow our natural flexibility in human interactions, problem solving and, yes, in combat as well.  Removing resistance is one important key to improving FLOW, both on and off the mat.  What are you resisting?  Is your resistance mental?  Physical? Both??  How can you remove this resistance?

Resistance is Futile.  Especially when your goal is success.  Think about it.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Teacher and Student

Master and Student.  The relationship is as old as time itself.  Over the past 30 years in and around martial arts I have seen many permutations.  I have been a deshi (disciple) to two masters, and over time have become an instructor myself, although people calling me "sensei" still seems a bit out of place.  I am yet to reach the level of "guro" in FMA, but I do my best to impart the essence of what my current master, Guro Fred Evrard, teaches in the curriculum of Kali Majapahit.

Most Westerners look with either awe or disdain at the master/student relationship. 
We see movies like Karate Kid which show both sides: the evil master with his fanatical cult of followers who aspire to oppress the weak, but also the kindly master who teaches the underdog the true meaning of the martial arts and helps him find the strength in himself to overcome hardship and achieve victory.

This relationship has some implicit responsibilities for both parties.  For the student, it involves coming to class regularly, on time and prepared, with clean uniform and open mind.  It means giving 100% effort in every class to try to learn the skills and lessons the master gives.  It means trying to experience first, rather than just immediately questioning things which are not readily apparent.  It also means not being afraid to question in order to help find the deeper meaning which the master intends.

For the master, this relationship means teaching regularly, being on time and prepared for every class, with clean uniform and clean intention, teaching the class with passion and energy, and caring first and foremost about the students' progression rather than about glorifying yourself.  It means being a good role model on and off the mats, and being careful never to abuse the enormous trust the students place in you.

The giving/receiving nature of this relationship has as its foundation a mutual respect between master and student.  This is why we bow.  Without the master, the student cannot find his way.  Without the student, the master's knowledge cannot continue past his own mortality.

Not every relationship between master and student results in discipleship, which will be the subject of another post.  However, both master and student should have no preconception of an end result, but rather allow the relationship to develop naturally, just as every relationship does between two people.

My own master shows me things I already know.  He reminds me to be true to the path, giving me ocassional glimpses of what lies ahead, and is always an example of what I can be if I do not give up --- if I continue to heed his teaching, continue to train diligently and let myself become a better person.  He is not just a better warrior, he is my spiritual guide, my mentor, and my "life coach" as I seek the path to my own happiness.

This relationship is a sacred one and should remain so.  Both parties have a role to play and a responsibility to each other.  This balance is Yin/Yang and in accordance with the traditional Asian view of things --- two parts forming a whole.  

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Trained and Determined

There are many ways to try to quantify the uncertainty of what happens in a violent encounter.  One way I use to explain is via the phrase "trained and determined".

Trained and Determined has several aspects.  First of all, we have to look at ourselves, which is the part of the equation we can control.  Being traing and determined means that we have received proper training.  Not just a knowledge of technique, but also training to develop appropriate reflex and response, manage stress, use psychology, have a sense of caution, and physical conditioning, In short, we have developed every aspect of ourselves as warriors.  Secondly is determination.  This means our commitment to being someone who survives an encounter.  It means not giving up - knowing there is always something that can be done.  It means developing a confident mentality and willpower that allow us to do whatever is needed to realistically assess and ultimately overcome the situation.

The other half of the equation which we cannot control are these attributes in our attacker.  While many systems assume an untrained attacker, it is always wise to accept that someone willing to attack you might have training at least equal to your own.  There is a big difference between a bar brawler and an MMA cage fighter (or skilled CIA field agent).  In our training this means exploring the highest percentage reversals/counters of our techniques and training to flow when things go wrong.  It also includes continuing to develop our knowledge through practicing with people of diverse martial backgrounds.

Determination is the second factor.  As I wrote in other posts, often the attacker's primary motivation is not harm you or kill you.  It is to get your property or money, to show they are not intimidated, or to express their anger or fear.  These need not be life-threatening results.  By contrast, a determined attacker (jealous husband/wife or suicide bomber, for example) may be unwilling to accept anything less than your injury or death.  In such cases, we have no choice but to respond as needed to protect our safety or the safety of those around us.  In this case, being proactive is completely justified.

Poorly trained assailants make mistakes.  In the case of Twiggy Fromme, for example, failing to charge the slide of her Colt 1911 .45 auto meant that President Ford survived her attempt to assassinate him.  The successful assassination of President Kennedy, by contrast, shows what can happen when an attacker is both trained and determined.

Lack of determination (or lack of training, for that matter) help us a lot, but can never be relied upon.  We must assume until proven otherwise, that any attack on us is done by a skilled attacker with the express intent of causing us bodily harm and train accordingly.  Hopefully none of us will ever be in this situation.  

In the meantime, how well "trained and determined" are you??

Self Defense For Women

In my previous post I highlighted some ways that violent offenders make fights unfair for their victims.  Often this extends to choosing women as targets either directly (rape or domestic abuse) or indirectly (muggings or robbery).  The fact is that even in peak physical condition most women are not the physical equals of men.

Not intending to restate the obvious here:
  • smaller height and weight
  • smaller primary muscle groups
  • socialization against violence
  • helpless or weak "victim" mindset
  • inappropiate dress for defense (short skirts, handbags, etc.)
In my previous post I listed many factors that help in a real self-defense situation.
For women, I would add even more:

proper choice of weapon
In general I don't recomment punching with the fist to any of my students (male or female).  Although we learn this in our boxing, the chance of injury to the hand is higher than using the open hand or hammerfist to strike.  For women, I suggest the fingernails when attacking soft targets like eyes or throat. Adding regular layers of nail strengthener can develop the claws' hardness to be very effective weapons.  Kicking the low lines (especially foot stomp or low kick with heels) and CQB weapons like headbutt, elbows, and knees otherwise.  While high heels can compromise the balance a bit, one of my former students in Chicago backkicked an assailant with her heel and it was as effective as stabbing with a knife. 

proper choice of target
The most effective targets for women are eyes, throat, knees/feet and groin.
Of these, the groin needs some further explanation.  Striking the groin, especially the proverbial "kick in the balls" is often touted as a one shot stop.  This is hardly true.
It can work, yes, but needs to be spot on or it may only enrage the attacker.  As a man, I can say that the fight goes up a few notches when someone aims for my balls.  I get mad, and I want to completely destroy anyone who tries that on me and fails.  This means it is a high risk, high reward strategy.  If you miss, you have a much more serious fight on your hands.  In addition, every man who has any experience at all knows to protect his groin.  It is usually not an easily available target.

The best option for the groin is the grab.  I suggest the palm heel hit, followed by grab, twist and pull.  This has the highest chance of success and can work if attacker is in front or behind (bearhug or rear choke).  Grabbing the groin causes a shock reaction in the mammalian part of the male brain that is more effective as a deterrent than a strike.

proper choice of technique
I resiterate here that simple is best.  Eye jabs, throat hits, groin grabs, low line kicks to knees or top of the foot, knees/elbows/headbutts all have their place in women's self defense.  Attacks which immobilize, such as low kicks or stomps, also can be effective since the goal is to escape the situation.  I am not a huge fan of locks and grappling for women since most of the time they will lose on the ground, and proper locking under stress requires a lot of practice to be effective under pressure.

There are some choices for women, given that they often carry handbags or purses.  It is important to consider that it is not easy to draw a weapon under pressure, so it is best to have something which can be carried innocuously (such as kubotan key chain, dulo dulo or the like).  I am personally not a huge fan of pepper sprays or stun guns, since there are plenty of stories of violent offenders who shrug these off and complete their assault.  The heavy key chain is a good option since they keys add weight to punches and can be used to slash.  An umbrella can also work if it is a solid heavy metal one.
Likewise, a heavy metal travel mug or thermos can be effective, too.  A solid pen
or the classy Montblanc version can work well, too.

I don't advocate carrying knives or karambits, although this is surely better than being killed/raped.  Likewise, guns are a no-no in my books, despite their effectiveness in the hands of a trained and determined user.

Sadly, women are often targets of violent crime.  Good training, good mindset, and an "equalizer" or two can help make sure you or your better half walks away safely.

Practical Reality

Let's talk reality.  Have a look at this...
(thanks to  for the video) in the dojo can never be exactly what we would experience on the street.
For premeditated attacks such as muggings, rapes, and the like, the attacker will usually stack the odds as high as possible in their favor (wouldn't you?).  Nobody likes a fair fight except the victim.  This means:
  • choosing places with bad (or no) lighting
  • choosing places not visible with security cameras
  • choosing unstable terrain such as narrow alleys or hallways, stairs, elevators, etc.
  • attacking from a concealed position by ambush
  • attacking from the rear or rear side angles rather than the front
  • attacking in small groups of two or three assailants per victim
  • using weapons
  • using surprise or deception to lure victims
Every one of the above lowers your chance of success as a victim.  While sparring can have some place in preparing for the reality of violent assault, what really saves your life in such situations is:

overcoming automatic stress and fear responses
our natural "fight or flight" response is part of our lower brain and evolved to help us survive predation.  Automatic release of adrenaline helps give us the burst of speed/strength we need in such situations.  Sadly, the downside is that this is a short-term benefit which comes at the cost of a loss of fine motor skills and clear, rational thinking.  Mastery of the response can give a lot of benefit by using this energy to help overcome the ambush attack.  For most people, lack of proper training causes this response to become panic and inaction, the classic "deer in the headlights" problem.

physical conditioning
This is simply not an option.  To better your chances of survival you need to be in the best physical condition you can.  While most real fights do not last 15 rounds, the stress can sap your strength very fast indeed.  When your batteries run dry, you are finished.  No matter how good your technique is, poor conditioning means a poor outcome.  I have yet to see any champion fighter step in any ring successfully without good physical conditioning.

muscle memory
You will do what you drill.  Complex drills are good to help break down mental walls and rewire ourselves for the benefit of ambidexterity and to create fluency in our empty hand and weapon techniques.  This, however, must be balanced with constant drilling of very simple techniques so that they become automated responses under stress.  Very important here are the specific movements you drill.  If you drill cutting people's throats with the karambit, this is what will happen under stress, and is frequently used to villify martial artists in courtrooms when they are sued by the survivor's family.  I suggest drilling the footwork heavily, since this makes a huge difference already.  I also suggest drilling defensive responses like elbow cover and head management since these need not be lethal responses.  Low line kicks are another useful muscle memory since they are non-lethal, but can really devastate an attacker when used correctly.  I love weapon drills as much (or more) as anyone, but cannot honestly suggest drilling these into muscle memory.  The risk of using excessive force is just too high.

simple techniques
Complex techniques are fun and challenging.  They help us to get a deeper understanding of spatial awareness, and frankly, it is cool to do them.  Honestly, these are not what will come out under stress.  It will be the simple movements that work and that save you.  As mentioned above, fine motor skills suffer under stress and complex techniques include many variables that will not always work in the heat of the moment.
KISS - keep it short and simple.  Fast, direct, simple technique is what really works.  No, these are not pretty, graceful or elegant.  They are...effective.

awareness of your surroundings
If you review the list at the top, you can quickly see that a lot of benefit can be gained from avoiding those places where ambushes are likely to occur.  When this is not possible, such as getting your car from the parking garage, be on alert that these are high percentage places for attack and act with caution.  Go in groups and be prepared.
It goes without saying that some blame is due to victims who lack common sense and wander dark alleys late at night steaming drunk.  It is wrong to say they are asking for trouble, but not wrong to suggest they are more likely targets of it.

proper use of individual and group pyschology
Luckily, in most attacks, causing injury or death is not the primary objective.
The attacker(s) want your wallet, your pride, or sex.  The violence is a means to an end.
My wallet is not worth dying (or killing) for, and yours should not be either. The schoolyard bully example is an appropriate one in that the bully looks to prey on a weaker opponent, and usually the first bloody nose is enough to get him to seek another weaker victim.  Attackers stack the odds, but also do not want someone to fight back.
Making it clear by your confident body language and posture that you are not a victim can often serve to cause attackers to choose another target.  While I am a strong advocate of ethical self-defense, this is a secondary consideration for me when I am ambushed.  I need to get out alive, and if that means serious harm to the attacker(s) then so be it.  In a group situation this means doing as much damage as fast as possible to the nearest attacker in order to give pause to the others.  I don't expect to always win in such a situation, but I will choose to go out swinging and making sure the winners know they are getting the best fight I can give.

There is no 100% success on the street.  It is at best chaotic and unpredictable and at worst unforgiving and unfair.  Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar (and most likely trying to sell you something).  At best we train to increase our odds of survival, and hope we never have to find out.

That said, good training and a good mindset helps a lot.