How To Keep Calm In The Face Of Danger

I asked the following question on my Facebook page:

“Many martial arts include meditation of some sort. Does this help us in combat? Or is is just part of being a better person?”

As I have a lot a high grade and intelligent martial artists on that page, I got quite a bit of intelligent feedback as I expected.  However, I personally think it goes a little bit deeper than most people give it credit for; both for combat application and for making you a better person.

Starting with combat application however, most experienced people will tell you that fighting is actually more mental than physical, so there’s the first big clue.  Many say its about 90% mental.  However, this concept is not often explained in depth.

If you face somebody in a real street situation and your mind is on the point of panic, you won’t be able to think or focus.  This will manifest in your physical movement as your body becomes tense, your techniques become short and choppy and all sense of timing, rhythm and distancing disappears.  Worse still, you might just freeze altogether.

It not just important that you maintain calmness under pressure, it is essential.  Regular training in martial arts teaches us to do this mainly by subjecting us to regular pressure training.  Even if its just the pre-arranged fighting sequences, as the attacker increases the intensity of the attack so the defender has to react faster and more accurately to avoid being hit.

Of course this can be taken to a higher level with scenario training which is common in reality based martial arts training.  But some form of meditation is also often used to calm the mind before and after training.  Karate has it “moksu” at the end (and sometimes the beginning) of each class and I’m sure many other martial arts have their own equivalent.

Calmness of mind is easy when kneeling (or sitting) in a nice quiet dojo (training hall), focusing on our breathing under no pressure at all.  But how exactly does this help us when some great big muppet from hell is screaming in your face “who the F**k you looking at”, you’ve just had an adrenalin dump and your legs are turning to jelly?

I’ll come back to that in a moment.  Have you ever noticed that you often have a little voice inside your head?  Have you noticed that unless you consciously control this little voice it is usually negative, telling you that you can’t do something or you will fail.  Ironically, most people know that it is there, but 99% of the time they are completely unaware of it.  When something goes wrong and that little voice “oh no, this always happens to me”.  Did you stop and consciously think that thought, or did it just materialise automatically?  If we’re honest, it usually just materialises without us giving it a second thought.

When somebody cuts up in their car how often does that little voice shout out a string of expletives questioning the other drivers parentage?  Again, was that a conscious thought, or was it just automatic?

For most people (if we’re honest), it is just automatic with no conscious consideration.  But does that reaction help us in any way?  Does it do anything in any way shape or form to make the situation better?

No, of course it doesn’t.  If anything it makes us feel worse.  So why do we have this mechanism inside our heads that automatically responds to situations, usually making them seem even worse?

OK, back to Mr Muppetfromhell.  What will that voice be saying when confronted by him?

He looks real big”.  “Oh god, he’s going to kill me”.  “I’m a black belt, this will be so embarrassing if I get beaten up”.  “Should I run”.  “Will he chase me”?  “What if I hit him and it doesn’t stop him, he’ll be even more angry”.

And so it goes on and on.  As with the other examples, does this voice help you or hinder you?  Do you have any real control over it, or does it just happen automatically?

You really need to silence that “nutter” inside your head.  The more dangerous the attacker that confronts you, the more difficult this is to do.  Ironically, the more dangerous your attacker, the more essential it becomes to be able to do this.

This is where the meditation (moksu) comes in.  This is why you focus on your breathing in an attempt to silence your own personal little nutter.  This can also be done with kata/forms too, which is often described as a moving meditation.  However, if you’re a high grade, try to think back to when you were a beginning.  Whether it was kata or moksu, did you find it really hard to focus without that little voice coming in, saying things like:

“My knees are aching kneeling here”, “how long will this last for”, “that was a good session”, “I scored a good roundhouse kick against Charlie tonight”, “I could murder a pint of beer after that session”.

Sound familiar?

How many of you have those thoughts, (or can remember having them) when you meditate/moksu?  If you can’t silence the voice in those peaceful conditions, how on Earth do you expect to do it in the face of Mr Muppetfromhell when he’s frothing at the mouth?  But over time, often a number of years, many learn to do it.

However, most people are not aware that part of the reason for meditation/moksu is to silence the voice (your personal nutter), never mind being aware of why that is important in combat.

I’ve recently been listening to an audio book by Andy Shaw called Creating A Bug Free Mind.  Although it is not a martial arts book, it has a direct read across (as described above).  In it, he gives you an exercise to do to see how in control of your own mind you are, which I would ask you to try.  The real life combat applications (as described above) will become apparent.   Simply think of any happy memory.  It can be a promotion, first date, birth of a child, holiday, absolutely anything that makes you feel good and happy.  Now try to hold that thought and that thought only for just 15 seconds without any other thoughts coming into your mind.  Please stop reading and try that now!
.
.
.
.
.

I’ll guarantee that most people will not able to hold that happy thought for just 15 seconds without another thought interrupting.  I would guess that many of the higher dan grades can do it due to their years of training.  If you are an instructor and you can do this easily, then I suggest that you ask your class to do it and you’ll probably be shocked how many can’t.

So now hopefully I’ll have changed a few minds as to what the meditative side is for and what you are actually trying to achieve through it.  Understanding what the point is, goes a long way to helping achieving it more quickly.  It might also help to understand why many senior martial artists include Tai Chi and Chi Gong as they advance.

So if actual fighting really is 90% mental, how can we control our minds in a real fight, when we can’t hold a happy a thought for 15 seconds?  How do get that control over your mind so that you can hold a thought for 15 seconds or more?

There are ways that this can be achieved quite easily (without years of meditation).  I can’t really do it justice in a few blog postings, as it took me several chapters to really get my head around it.  However, if you go over to Andy Shaw’s website, you can download the first 5 chapters of Creating A Bug Free Mind completely free.  I’ll tell you in advance, this book is heavily marketed, but it really is one of the best self development book I’ve ever come across and it will show you how to silence that voice.  This can be done in days or weeks rather than years.  As such, I believe that it will really accelerate your martial art training.   I’ve used the example of Mr Muppetfromhell screaming at you, but it applies just as well to friendly sparring in the club, or focus on your kata/forms.

 

Maximising The Thrust Behind Your Reverse Punch

OK, this is mainly from a Karate perspective, but does also apply to some other styles too.  If you’re not a Karateka but sometime compete with them, then it might help you to understand some of the mechanics of our techniques too.

The content in the video below is in fairness nothing new, it’s just honing a fine detail which may help some to understand the mechanics of a reverse punch (gyaka zuki) that little bit better.

For those who teach, it may just give another way for you to explain to your students the mechanics of the movement that you’ve been trying to get them to understand.

I talk a lot on this website about practicality and bunkai, but you still need to have good technique or the practicality and bunkai won’t work very well.

It might be immodest of me, but I consider one of my strengths to be an ability to break techniques down into fine detail and sometimes to re-frame details to help people to understand that little bit better.  I might of course be deluding myself so I’ll let you be the best judge of that.  If however you agree and find this video useful, then please pass this link on to you club mates and martial arts friends.  I hope you enjoy it:

Look Them Straight In The Eye . . . . . Or Should You?

Every now and then the question comes up, where do you look when you have to square up to somebody, be it for a real fight or just for sparring.  The common answer that comes back is, “look em straight in the eye”!

But is this always the right thing to do?  Let me draw an analogy.  When you learn to drive (or cycle if you’re younger), what are told to look at.  You’re told to keep your eyes on the road.  The road is quite big and can take up practically the entire range of your vision.  You’re not told to focus on the car in front, or focus on the street signs, or focus on your mirror, or focus on the pedestrians on the side, or focus on vehicles coming from the other direction or focus on any vehicle overtaking you.  You are expected to be aware of  ALL OF THEM, all at the same time.

What’s that got to do with martial arts?

I’m glad you asked me that.

If when driving, if you focused one thing, you would miss the other things.  So it is with sparring or fighting.  Many a car accident has happened because a young lad sees a shapely young lady and focuses on her to exclusion of all else.  He then fails to notice what is right in front of him.

Many a young fighter has been punched in the head because he/she knows that their opponent is a good kicker and was watching their feet (or kicked whilst watching their opponents hands).

So what’s the answer?

Going back to the driving analogy, when we drive we learn to relax our eyes.  The pupils of our eyes dilate and become bigger, so that we can take in more information.  The price we pay for taking in the more information is a tiny loss of clarity, but anybody with reasonable eyesight will have ample clarity for the job of driving.  This allows us to be aware of the road, oncoming traffic, traffic in front of us and pedestrians at the same time.  This awareness allows us to detect and react the instance something happens, like a pedestrian stepping out or a car breaking hard in front of us.  Obviously we instantly focus on the problem, but by doing so we lose some clarity of the other potential hazards around us.  This is usually OK when driving, because we seldom have more than one real hazard at a time, and having spotted the first, we are already taking action (usually braking).

However, when we are fighting (or even sparring) we can have multiple and continuous hazards coming at us all the time in the form of multiple punches, kicks, headbutts, elbows, knees, etc; which can come at from different level and directions.  It could even multiple opponents.

So when fighting/sparring we have to try to maintain the relaxed dilated pupils so that we can keep track of these multiple hazards.  I have sometimes sparred with lower grades, where I have just sparred defensively in order to help them build up their confidence in attacking.  They are sometime frustrated and bemused that I can block/parry multiple attacks coming in at different levels and directions.  I’m not trying to say that I’m brilliant, but the point is that when you get used to relaxing and dilating your pupils you can keeps track of multiple attacks be they kicks, punches or combinations of both.  The split second you focus only on that kick coming in, is the split second that you get punched.

Going back to the driving analogy, if you have to squeeze between say a parked car and an oncoming lorry, would a driving instructor tell you focus on the lorry?  Would he tell you to focus on the parked car?
No!  He would tell you to focus on the road in the direction you want to go in.

Why?  Because when we focus on either the lorry or the parked car, we tend to drive towards them instead of where we want to go.  Notice however, even if you keep your eyes on the road and drive straight ahead, you are still very very aware of that big lorry right next to you (even though you don’t look right at it).  When fighting/sparring we don’t want to focus on blocking/evading/parrying all the time as we can never win like that.  We can only win by hitting the other guy (or throwing/locking etc, but you get the point).

By focusing on the attacking limbs you are drawn to them (like focusing on the lorry will make you tend to drive towards it).  By keeping your attention on the whole of the attacker, you will spot the openings that will allow you to counter attack, (like keeping your eye on the road will allow you to steer clear of the obstacles).

From the self protection point of view, it also allows you to be more aware of a possible second assailant.

Now with many people being into reality based martial arts and studying the psychology of fighting and the effects of adrenalin, I’m sure that some of you are already thinking, “yes Charlie, but when you have an adrenalin dump you get tunnel vision”.

This is true.  However, tunnel vision is a possible effect of an adrenalin dump and not a guaranteed effect.  Also, part of your training should deal with the effects of adrenalin so that you get used to it and the negative effects of adrenalin are minimised with constant training.  Also, if you train your eyes in this manner under pressure, then you’ll be able to do it under pressure.  Just keep it in mind when you are doing any partner work at all.

So does that mean that we never make eye contact at all?  Well in may well be necessary at some stage, particularly in the pre-fight build up stage.  Very generally speaking, there are 2 main tactics used by reality based training when dealing with the pre-fight build up:

1.   Match their aggression with equally assertive behaviour so as to get them to back down (often used by FAST Defence).
2.  Act mildly so as to lull them into a false sense of security and hit them with a pre-emptive strike.

If you are matching their behaviour with equal assertiveness, then you will want to meet their gaze and stare them in the eye.  However, as soon as it is clear that it’s about to go physical then you relax and dilate your pupils to take in all of their weapons (even if its only hand and feet).

If however, you are trying to lull them into a false sense of security so as to use a pre-emptive strike, then you don’t need to stare them in the eye as this will be seen as a challenge and alert them to be more cautious of you.

There is no point in having fantastic blocks, evasions and parries, if you are not aware of the attack coming at you.  Although this is not often taught, it is a very necessary and vital skill.  Fortunately as people learn to relax their bodies in training, so they usually learn to relax their eyes and very often over time start doing this naturally.  But it must be practiced under pressure so that you don’t lose it due to the effects of adrenalin when you need it most.

Of the subject slightly, it is also a very good metaphor for dealing with any of life’s problems, be it family, business, relationships, whatever.  One of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person is a physical assault.  If you learn to relax enough to keep sight of all the weapons that your attacker will throw at you; then with everyday life problems you should be able to do the same.  Don’t look too closely and focus on just one detail of the problem.  Stand back and take in the whole picture so that you are able to react to any circumstance which may arise from this particular problem.

Martial Arts & Psycho Cybernetics (Part 2)

This post continues from Part 1, looking at how some elements of the book, Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz applies to martial arts.

The author, Maxwell Maltz, makes the compelling case that our brains act as a goal driven mechanism that works on negative feedback to achieve our desires.  Now before people jump up in arms at the use of the phrase “negative feedback” when modern day political correctness and education tells that we should always be positive, bear with me while I explain.

If you’re driving a car down a completely straight road and you line the car up parallel with the road, sooner or later you’ll start getting nearer and nearer to the centre of the road or the curb, so you need to adjust the steering in order to keep going straight.  This heading for the curb is the “negative feedback” telling you to make an adjustment to keep you going on the correct route without having an accident.

It is like a baby learning to walk.  At first they keep falling down.  Then they manage a few step and learn from it.  The more they fall down (negative feedback) the more they learn to adjust their steps to prevent it happening again.  Negative feedback in this sense is essential to tell us when we are going off from our true path or goal.

However, once the driver adjust the steering he/she does it automatically and forgets about the slight variance of their car’s path; just as the baby forgets about the falls once it has learnt to walk.  So it is with all aspects of learning, including martial arts.  Once we become adept at a technique (walking, driving, jumping spinning kick) we forget how we did it wrong.  In fact the wrong way starts to feel un-natural to us.

Problems do set in however, (with any facet of life), when people start to focus on the negative feedback instead of the correction that it should indicate to them.  Ever heard somebody say, “Oh I’ll never be able to do that”.  They are focusing the negative feedback instead of using it to prompt them in the desired direction.  When we have a goal in life, we should pursue it aggressively.  I don’t mean knocking people out of your way to get there, but you should be very pro-active and determined in achieving your desired outcome.

This applies to every single aspect of your life, be it physical, spiritual, emotional, relationships, business, martial arts, whatever.

This is one of the strengths of traditional martial arts training, as it always teaches you to you strive for perfection of technique, gradual improving bit by bit taking you up in small bite size steps (grading syllabus).  For any able bodied person who trains hard and regular, getting the coverted black belt is achievable.  Many people who are not fully able bodied have achieved their black belt.

Now I know that many will say that the the belt does not really matter . . . and . . . well . . . they’re right.  That said, it is a very significant and tangible symbol of success and achievement.  Whether we train for combat, or sport, or just for the art; we train our minds to accept the negative feedback and to move forward.

In fairness, many endeavours can have a similar effect on the practitioner.  Martial arts however do deal with facing up to violence.  The fear of violence is one of our most hard-wired primal instincts.  To quote a wise friend of mine, Dave Hayward:

Acts of violence are the single most terrifying thing that can happen to us or those we love. The type of training we partake in gives us the confidence and ability to deal with it. I believe this is what makes the martial arts holistic as we learn to deal with and conquer fear by dealing with the worst fear of all.

Martial arts are geared up (as David says) to conquer our worst and most primal fear.  Furthermore, they are designed to overcome this most basic animal instinct within us in a methodical step by step manor (grades) which is designed to set us up for success.

Psycho Cybernetics also quotes from a published article by Prescott Lecky:

Lecky has said that the purpose of emotion is “re-inforcement”, or additional strength, rather that to serve as a sign of weakness.  He believed that there was only one basic emotion – “excitement” – and that excitement manifests itself as fear, anger, courage, etc., depending upon our own inner goals at the time – whether we are inwardly organized to conquer a problem, run away from it, or destroy it.  “The real problem is not to control emotion, but to control the choice of which tendency shall receive emotional reinforcement”.

This has an obvious relevance for us as martial artists.  Whether in a competition, or (god forbid) you are assaulted by a real street predator, you will feel that excitement.  It will usually be accompanied by adrenalin.  We must train ourselves to use that excitement to re-enforce our courage and our determination to get away safely (whether by running or fighting).  We mustn’t let this excitement overly re-enforce our feelings of fear and panic.

Maxwell Maltz relays an example of an old time boxer, Jack Dempsey, who apparently used to get so nervous before a fight that he couldn’t shave and couldn’t sit or stand still.  However, Jack Dempsey did not interpret this nervousness as fear; instead he used it to fuel his blows in the match.

This is what we as martial artists must also do.  Traditional martial arts do this by repeated exposure to somebody putting pressure on us at training, whether by free sparring or pre-arranged drills getting faster and more determined.  Reality based training does of course accelerate this process (as per part 1).

Daoist Nei Gong: New Book By Damo Mitchell

Damo Mitchell was born into a family of martial artists.  His father, Paul Mitchell (who is my Karate Sensei & Tai Chi teacher) and his mother, Chris, introduced him to Shotokan Karate & Yoga at the humble age of 4.

His studies led him through many styles and various weapons, until he settled to focus on internal Chinese martial arts.  Damo has travelled to the Far East to seek out the very best of teachers and has studied not only the internal marital arts, but Qi Gong, Daoist Yoga, Nei Gong (internal change) and a whole range of related disciplines.

Since 2005 Damo has been a professional martial arts teacher who spends his time travelling, teaching and writing.  He founded the Lotus Nei Gong Association and has already had several books published.  Having trained under him myself, I can honestly say that he is a phenomenal teacher with a remarkable ability for his age.

He has a new book coming out which is due for release on July 15th.  For anybody interested in internal arts, this is to be highly recommended.

The following description is taken from the Lotus Nei Gong Association Newsletter:-

July 15th is the official release date for Damo‟s new book on Daoist internal practices.  It is being released by Singing Dragon in the UK and the US.
Students within our school have all noticed that there is very little information on Nei Gong available in English.
This book will serve to fill the gap in information as it matches exactly the methodology taught by Damo Mitchell and his senior students in Lotus Nei Gong classes.
The book contains an overview of the entire process of Nei Gong as it is understood by Damo as well as looking in detail at several important foundational practices. These include, aligning the body, developing a healthy breathing pattern through the practice of Sung and beginning to awaken the energy system.
The book also contains a detailed explanation of the Ji Ben Qi Gong exercises which are fundamental to Nei Gong as well as numerous photographs of Damo performing the movements.
A large degree of the book is dedicated to Daoist philosophy in order to show how arcane Daoist theory was the seed from which the internal arts of Daoism sprung forth.
Towards the end of the book are various sections which discuss the abilities which can be drawn from Nei Gong practice and the start of the alchemy process which enables a practitioner to systematically break down their acquired nature and so “return to the source”.
This book is available to pre-order from either Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com as well as directly from the Singing Dragon website.  Some sites offer pre-order discounts as well.
Release Date: July 15th 2011
“This book drills down into the golden core of the ancient Chinese art and science of internal self-cultivation known as “chi gong,” or “energy work,” and after reading it, you’ll understand why chi gong is the best way on earth to protect your health, prolong your life, and clarify your awareness of both aspects of the “Three Treasures” of life–mortal body, breath, and mind; and immortal essence, energy, and spirit. Known simply as “nei gong,” or “internal work,” this inner alchemy may be learned and practiced by anyone. Written by a dedicated practitioner who verifies scholarly research with personal experience and illustrates ancient theory with contemporary practice, this book provides the Western mind with a clear-cut introduction to chi gong that informs as well as inspires the reader to practice.”
Daniel Reid
Author of Guarding the Three Treasures

 

To order from the UK
//
Amazon.co.uk Widgets